Who: Committee of Advertising Practice (“CAP”)
When: 12 November 2015
Law stated as at: 11 December 2015
Following the full public consultation between March and May this year (as reported here), CAP has now released new rules that will allow advertisers of “responsible lifestyle weight loss programmes” to make reference to obesity in advertising.
Before the consultation, advertising that targeted the obese was prohibited on the basis that the advertising may discourage those that require medical attention to seek appropriate help. However, following the consultation, CAP has found that some programmes are recognised as safe and effective.
The changes only allow certain advertisers that meet particular criteria to reference and target the obese. The criteria are that weight loss programmes of the advertisers must:
- have been effective for at least 12 months;
- last at least three months;
- address various aspects of weight loss (be multi-component), such as dietary intake, physical activity and behaviour change;
- be developed by a multi-disciplinary team, including a registered dietician, registered psychologist and qualified physical activity instructor; and
- be provided by staff that are specially trained to deliver the weight loss programme being advertised.
The rules refer to all tiers of obesity (as defined in the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) Guidelines) but this will be reviewed after 12 months to ensure that no depictions of obesity are causing harm.
In the statement covering the consultation, CAP notes that, on occasion, it may be willing to consider advertisers falling outside the criteria. However, this depends on the advertiser providing robust evidence and sufficient substantiation in relation to the safety and effectiveness of its weight loss programme.
The statement covering the consultation also states that the other rules and issues raised in the CAP Code and BCAP Code continue to apply when advertising to the obese. In particular, CAP reminds advertisers that the following requirements are in force:
- advertisers must not discourage essential treatment for conditions where medical supervision should be sought (but will be slightly amended to permit the new rule);
- weight loss advertisements must not make claims about the amount of weight that can be lost by an individual in a specific time period; and
- while testimonials and reviews are permitted, advertisers must consider their evidence base carefully when using a testimonial showing a greater weight loss than is likely to be experienced by most participants.
In addition, CAP also warns that advertisers choosing to use the new rules “should exercise caution to ensure that their depictions of, and references to, people who are obese are responsible and not likely to cause offence“.
Why this matters:
This relaxation allows advertisers to target the obese for the very first time. Previously, this was not permitted in case individuals that require medical treatment are signed up.
The changes follow and take note of the 2014 report by NICE and CAP has stated that this move allows advertisers to play a part in tackling the UK’s growing obesity problem:
“In light of the fact that some of these programmes have become recognised as safe and effective ways for people to lose weight, CAP considers it is disproportionate to prohibit them from advertising their services to people who are obese.”
The director of CAP, Shahriar Coupal, added that:
“These new rules strike a sensible balance; providing weight loss management programmes that meet necessary criteria the freedom to target their advertising at people who are obese while ensuring the right level of protections for consumers are in place.”