Inject a dose of compliance into your weight-loss ads

The benefits of maintaining a healthy weight has been a big part of the national conversation recently.  Burning more calories than you consume is the most common self-treatment for weight-loss - good medical and nutritional practice suggests a steady weight loss rate of no more than 2lbs a week.

However, this takes time and with lockdown restrictions impacting on many people’s activities, it is perhaps no surprise that individuals might be tempted to consider alternative methods to lose weight. Whether that’s food supplements and patches, wraps and leggings or even prescription-only medicine (POM) options like injections and pills.

What are prescription-only weight loss medicines?

The ads we’ve seen are for medicines like liraglutide and semaglutide which are dispensed in injectable and oral versions.

These medicines are often presented as “skinny pens”, “skinny jabs” or “skinny tabs” and “skinny pills”, referring to their method of administration - brand names include include Saxenda, Victoza and Ozempic (injectable) and Rybelsus (oral).

Treatments classed as POMs cannot be advertised to the public. This is not only a breach of the CAP Code but also an offence under the Human Medicines Regulations 2012 (HMRs).

What if I advertise non-POM weight loss products and services?

Even if you aren’t making a direct or indirect reference to POMs, you should avoid making other problematic claims such as stating that people can lose a specific amount of weight within a certain time. Additionally, ads should be responsible in that they should not be marketed to people who are not overweight, nor should they encourage anxieties over body image, for instance by showing slim characters in photos or in illustrations linked with an aspiration to lose weight.

Our prescription

In response to the promotion of prescription-only weight loss treatments, CAP has published a new Enforcement Notice with the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

Because POMs cannot be advertised to the general public, all ads for POMs on social media are likely to problematic. 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.

Prevention is better than cure, but if problem ads persist after 12th February, we will consider targeted enforcement action to ensure a level playing field.

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

More on

  • Keep up to date

    Sign up to our rulings, newsletters and emargoed access for Press. Subscribe now.