TikTok Cracks Down On Weight-Loss Ads

Bethany Howell

TikTok is putting new restrictions on weight-loss ads, following heavy criticism for promoting dangerous diets to young users.

The company’s new policy bans ads for fasting apps and weight loss supplements. TikTok is also putting increased restrictions on other weight-loss-related ads. These include limiting publication of “weight management products” so they are only visible to users over 18 years old.

These new restrictions have been put in place to reduce the exposure of potentially harmful imagery and language to TikTok users — a predominantly teenage demographic.

What Are The New Rules?

In a recent blog post, Tara Wadhwa, TikTok’s Safety Policy Manager, listed the new ad policies. Wadhwa claimed that the company is committed to combating “problematic and exaggerated claims in diet and weight loss products,” as well as “placing stronger restrictions on weight-loss claims and references to body image.”

So, what will TikTok be bringing into play?

  • Weight management products will only be able to reach users older than 18 years old
  • There will be ‘stronger restrictions’ on weight-loss claims
  • ‘Further restrictions’ will be put in place to limit irresponsible claims made by brands that promote weight-loss management or control
  • Ads promoting weight loss and weight management products or services will not be able to promote a negative body image or negative relationship with food

Some of these policies are relatively vague but are certainly a step in the right direction. 

TikTok also announced in the blog post that it will be supporting Weight Stigma Awareness Week by launching a dedicated page in the app to promote the #EndWeightHateCampaign. The aim of this page is to educate TikTok’s (mostly teen) audience about what weight stigma is, why it should matter to everyone, and how they can find support or support others who may be struggling.

TikTok partner and National Eating Disorders Association CEO Claire Mysko said: 

“We are encouraged to see a prominent platform like TikTok join the movement to End Weight Hate and challenge fatphobia. Weight stigma has been documented as a significant risk factor for depression, body dissatisfaction, and low self-esteem.”

How Can Users Clamp Down On Harmful Content?

The social media app is offering a number of in-app controls to manage users’ TikTok experience, including:

  • Reporting: If you come across ads or content that promote harmful behaviors or imagery, you can report it by long pressing on the video, selecting “report,” and choosing “self-harm”
  • Not interested: If you come across content that might be triggering or upsetting to you, long-press on the video, select “not interested,” and choose to hide future videos from the creator or hide videos that use the same sound
  • Comment filters: In the Privacy section of the settings, select “comment filters.” The first option automatically hides offensive comments detected on videos. The second options lets you create a custom list of keywords so that comments containing those words will be hidden automatically, too
  • Blocking: If you're experiencing unkind behavior, you can block and report them directly from their profile so that they can't find or engage with your content  

TikTok creator and body positivity advocate, Anna O'Brien (@glitterandlazers), said: 

“These changes to the ad policies make me feel safer, more welcome and prouder to be a TikTok creator. Diet culture isn't welcome on TikTok, because diverse voices are.”

TikTok’s Past Criticism On Weight-Loss Ads

TikTok was criticized earlier this year for running both ads and user-created videos that promote eating disorders or unhealthy diets. 

BuzzFeed News reported in February that the app was “filled with pro-eating disorder content” — which is likely to be triggering to some viewers. Rolling Stone also reported that TikTok was “advertising dangerous fasting diets to teenage girls.” 

Plus, in July, the New York Post wrote about the dangers behind the app’s “what I eat in a day” trend, in which people sometimes show themselves eating very little. 

There have even been a few petitions circulating to initiate the ban of weight loss ads on TikTok. 

Why TikTok Needs to Take Action

Body shaming can lead to low self-esteem and mental health issues, so this ban on weight-loss ads is crucial for the company’s users. What’s more, TikTok’s demographics is predominantly teenagers – with 10-19-year-olds sharing 32.5% of the distribution in the US. 

This ban comes in light of other social media apps coming under fire, especially after the death of Molly Russell in the UK. The 14-year-old comitted suicide in 2017 after viewing graphic images of self harm and suicide on Instagram.

This move from TikTok is a huge step in the right direction. But, as social media becomes more forefronted in teen lives, it’s vital that all social media platforms step up to challenge harmful ads. 

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Beth is a Writer for Tech.co. Having written on a variety of platforms over the years, she prides herself on an eclectic portfolio across multiple sites, and regularly covers articles on the latest environmental tech.

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