Ban ads for slimming clubs and weight loss products around children #FreeFromDiets
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Schools, sports clubs and places of leisure for children and young people should all be safe spaces for under 18s, where they are not at risk of being body shamed, exposed to harmful messaging around dieting and diet culture, or encouraged - whether inadvertently or not - to focus on ideas around restricting food and aspiring to a particular type of body.
These ideas are at odds with the core message being promoted by slimming clubs and weight loss products - that in order to live a happy and fulfilled life, to be a worthwhile member of society and to inspire others, you must be thin or have a body that meets the narrow beauty ideals we regularly see in the media.
My name is Molly Forbes and I'm a mum of two daughters and a positive body image campaigner. In my work as a presenter, podcaster and internet influencer I regularly interview experts and speak at events and in the media, discussing the harmful effects of diet culture and the link between body image and mental health. As a mum, I'm particularly interested in the way children and young people are being impacted by these messages.
Current advertising guidelines state that slimming and weight control products or services must not be addressed to people under 18, but this is not stopping slimming clubs from targeting schools, childrens' sports clubs and places for children and families as sites to recruit potential new members to their groups.
I've received countless messages from other parents, letting me know about banners for slimming clubs being displayed on or near schools, leaflets for slimming clubs being handed out on or near schools and posters being put up in many sports and recreation clubs for under 18s across the country.
Although the slimming clubs may argue that they are not directly addressing under 18s with this form of marketing (and intend instead to speak to parents), there is no doubt that children are seeing these messages - and in some cases being encouraged to take leaflets home in their school book bags.
This is damaging for multiple reasons:
1. There is a huge body of evidence showing that dieting (including slimming clubs marketed as a "lifestyle plan") can lead to disordered eating and, in some case, severe eating disorders.
2. There is increasing evidence to show more children are being affected by eating disorders than ever before, with some children as young as three years old receiving help.
3. There's a wealth of evidence to show associated mental health problems linked to poor body image are on the rise, with the latest report showing one in eight adults has had suicidal thoughts due to poor body image.
4. There's also increasing evidence to show poor body image is now a particular area of concern for children and young people, with one in five girls not raising their hand in class for fear of being judged over their appearance.
5. Many studies have shown that poor body image can lead to a reduced quality of life and general health - with those with a negative body image less likely to take part in physical activity, eat in a way that feels good for their body, or socialise with friends.
There is no doubt that being exposed to marketing for slimming services and weight loss products on or near school, at their sports' club or dance classes could have a negative impact on a child's body image and be damaging to both their mental and physical health.
I'm calling for tighter regulations, enforcement and investigation of the way these services and products are marketed and new slimming club members are recruited, with a ban on advertising within a 100 metre radius of any school, sports club or place of leisure for children and young people, to include putting up banners, posters, handing out leaflets or sponsoring sports kit.
Just as it is not deemed appropriate for junk food ads to be placed near schools or for brands making HFSS products to sponsor kids' sport clubs, I argue that the same rules should apply to slimming services and weight loss products.
Our children deserve a childhood free from negative body image influences and to be given the chance to grow up loving the skin they're in, appreciating it and not feeling compelled to conform to narrow beauty ideals or ideas of health which are manufactured by a multi-billion pound diet industry. Banning the advertising of slimming services and weight loss products around schools and places of leisure for children and young people is an important step in protecting their mental and physical health when it comes to body image.
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