Anyone who has spent any time online, reading a magazine or scrolling on social media is well aware of the huge amount of information about diets, "superfoods", weight loss and nutrition that is shared. But how can the public decipher between the information that is factual and evidence-based and that which is potentially dangerous and misleading?
There is some protection for the public when it comes to misleading adverts. When someone is not just offering an opinion, but promoting a product or a service, if it claims something that is misleading, dangerous or incorrect it could be breaking the rules of the CAP Code, which is written by the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Action can be taken against any ads that are found to be breaking the code.
Recent ASA rulings of interest
The ASA ruled that The Sculpted Vegan / Menopause Shred was breaking the CAP Code.
Action was taken and the ASA ruled that the claims must not appear again in their current form. They told Kim Constable Ltd t/a The Sculpted Vegan/Menopause Shred to ensure that they did not make claims as to the efficacy of any of their programmes, including the use of testimonials, unless they held adequate evidence that substantiated those claims.
They also told them not to make claims that discouraged the essential treatment for a condition for which medical supervision should be sought. Finally, they told them not to make claims that people could lose precise amounts of weight within a stated period.
The ASA ruled that Sensilab d.o.o. t/a Slimjoy were breaking the CAP Code.
The ASA ruled that the ads must not appear again in the form complained of. They told Sensilab d.o.o. t/a Slimjoy to ensure their future marketing communications were prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. They also told them to ensure that when advertising supplements they did not refer to a rate or amount of weight loss, and that any specific health claims made in their future advertising were authorised on the GB NHC Register and met the associated conditions of use.
A complaint against Simple as Fat was upheld by the ASA.
The ASA told ASC Twelve Ltd t/a Simple As Fat not to state or imply that their diet plan was a treatment for obesity or for other conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, such as Type 2 diabetes and erectile dysfunction. They told them not to claim the diet plan was effective for weight loss, in the absence of adequate evidence to substantiate such claims. They also told them not to advertise their diet plan unless they held evidence to show that it was nutritionally well-balanced.
What is the BDA doing about it?
Our Ads and Fads campaign has been running since 2020. The aim is to correct misinformation shared online, in the media and on social media.
As the only nutrition professionals to be regulated by law and governed by an ethical code to ensure we’re always working to the highest standard, it is vital that we collectively promote responsible, evidence-based advice. It’s important that we target those that make unsubstantiated claims and are confusing and misleading the public.
Whilst the ASA conducts their own proactive monitoring to identify any potential issues, they are largely complaints led, so they welcome when experts spot and highlight poor practice. And, that’s where our members come in!
What can our members do?
We want to harness the power of our membership to highlight bad practice. Not everything will break the rules, even if it is complete nutrition nonsense, but reporting it is a good place to start, when there is the evidence-base to refute its claims.
1. Familiarise yourself with the Code
We are encouraging you to highlight incorrect information and report it to the ASA, if you think it breaks the CAP Code. The ASA will then take any appropriate action.
It will be important to consider the CAP Non-Broadcast Code. This is the set of rules against which the ASA will judge all advertising when making its judgements. The key sections of the code for the purposes of our campaign and worth getting familiar with are:
- 03 - Misleading advertising - the overall rules to ensure an advert or promotion is not misleading the public.
- 12 - Medicines, medical devices, health-related products and beauty products - rules about how medicines and other products that claim to have a health benefit can be promoted.
- 13 - Weight control and slimming - relating to products or programmes that claim to help someone lose weight or change their body shape.
- 15 - Food, food supplements and associated health or nutrition claims - rules on food products and specifically the use of health claims, which are protected by law.
2. Report it
If you see something that you think falls foul of the code, (remember it has to be an advert or promotion of a product) please report it to the ASA here. Make sure to include screenshots and any relevant links – the more information you can gather, the better.
Things to think about:
- Does the evidence look robust? Testimonials alone aren’t sufficient
- Are they making realistic claims?
- Are they being responsible to consumers and society? E.g. are they promoting an unhealthy body image or exploiting insecurities?
- Are the diets nutritionally well-balanced?
3. Report something you spot on social media
If you’ve spotted something on social media that is utter nonsense and someone is getting paid to promote a product/diet, this could also be breaching the CAP Code and should be reported to the ASA. Look out for #Ad or #Advert.
For those posts on social media that could have potentially dangerous outcomes, but are not highlighted as #Ad please report them directly to the platforms, so they can investigate if they are in breach of their rules.
If you see an unregistered person claiming to be a dietitian, raise a concern directly with the HCPC for further investigation.
4. Have the media published incorrect, misleading or dangerous information?
Write a Letter to the Editor of the publication if you spot anything in the media that you deem to be incorrect. Contact details will be found on their websites. There’s no guarantee there will be a correction made or they will print the letter, but it’s important to highlight these concerns and raise the voice and visibility of dietitians, as the authoritative voice when it comes to nutritional advice.