Avoid the ASA taking a jab you - Ads featuring prescription only weight loss injections

Burning more calories than you consume is the most common self-treatment for weight-loss and for people who are ‘overweight’, a rate of weight loss greater than 2lbs a week is unlikely to be compatible with good medical and nutritional practice.  The downside here is that this takes time and effort.  As a result, “quick fix” weight loss methods are perennially popular as people look for a quick and easy way to lose weight. We, and the ASA, have seen various methods over the years, from food supplements and patches to wraps and leggings

More recently weight loss options called “skinny jabs”, “skinny pens”, “skinny ject” and “thin pen”, have burst on to the scene. These methods involve the administering of prescription only medication injections.

What are weight loss injections?

The weight loss injection ads we’ve seen are branded as Saxenda which contain liraglutide. This is a Prescription Only Medicine (POM) licensed for weight loss.

Treatments classed as POMs cannot be advertised to the public. A marketer advertising POMs and treatments would be at risk of breaking the CAP Code. There is a growing concern about the availability of POM weight loss injections in areas such as beauty salons. The ASA has previously investigated and upheld ads against Beauty Salons for promoting POMs in their advertising (albeit for a different POM). A beauty salon in Sevenoaks recently pulled their 'SkinnyJab' weight loss injections ad, after receiving backlash from their local community, social media and The British Dietetic Association.

We spoke to Rebecca McManamon, a Consultant Dietitian and spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, to get her view on the advertising of weight loss injections in beauty salons:

“It is very concerning that beauty salons or similar establishments may be advertising medications for weight loss like liraglutide. Only health care professionals are appropriately qualified to assess if weight loss medication is suitable for an individual.

There is a risk that this medication could cause harm, for example to people with an eating disorder or that have a medical history that might contraindicate taking the medication, such as pancreatitis. There are also concerns about how to inject medication and safe disposal of sharps that require advice from a healthcare professional.”

“Zero side effects” and claims that “diets don’t work”

Even if you aren’t making a direct or indirect reference to the POM injection, claims stating that your service provides “guaranteed results”, has “zero side-effects” and “is 100% safe”, would risk breaking the CAP Code under 12.19. Advertisers should act with a sense of responsibility and shouldn’t suggest that it isn’t possible to lose weight through exercise and a healthy diet alone.

Rebecca also gave us her views on claims that “diets don’t work”:

“Dietary and behaviour change is essential to any treatment for weight loss, even weight loss surgery, and especially alongside prescription medication like liraglutide. These medications as a “quick fix” are unlikely to benefit physical or psychological health in the long term without professional support.

When prescribed by a health care professional, evidence based dietary information and advice can be given to ameliorate any benefit from the medication. Anyone accessing weight loss medication without this professional support may receive inaccurate or unsafe dietary information. A balanced diet alongside weight loss medication is needed to prevent any nutrient deficiencies in restricted diets.”

Producing an ad that discourages a balanced healthy diet and instead promotes the use of a POM injection is therefore also likely to break the rules concerning social responsibility and ‘body image.

Marketers own websites

Marketers are able to include on their own websites, the offering of consultations and discussion around “weight control” options. In some instances, websites may provide information about the POM in the context of the product being a possible treatment following a consultation. See our guidance on prescription-only medicines for weight control for more on this.

Questions? Our Copy Advice team are on-hand to provide free and fast bespoke advice on your non-broadcast advertising.

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