Weight loss medicines on social media: Spoiler Alert!

According to researchers, social media can play a key role in losing weight. A study focused on thirty-three participants struggling to lose weight through surgical and non-surgical means, who shared their weight loss journey on social media, were confirmed to be more committed in their efforts than those who did not blog about their journey.

Based on this study published in the Nov. 2017 issue of the Journal of Interactive Marketing, experts believe that sharing their successes and setbacks helped to keep the participants centered on their goals. Co-author, Professor Sonya Grier said, sharing pictures and intimate information related to weight loss becomes a “key factor in motivating behaviors that fulfill that new thinner identity and thus helps people reach their goals”.

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Similarly, research published in the BMC Public Health journal highlights that approximately 1.9 billion adults were overweight or obese in 2016 while, an estimated 2.8 million preventable deaths are also caused by obesity. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), obesity is fast becoming a global epidemic. WHO argues that weight gain is generally caused by an increase in energy intake followed by a decrease in physical inactivity and should be tackled with treatment focused on making behavioral changes in diet and activity.

The study furthers the idea that although social media helps to “increase participant engagement” while proving a cost-effective tool, it is still an emerging field that deserves preliminary research. The authors argued that we need a better understanding of how social media works so that we can better identify the best health tool for promotion on social media.

So while social media can play a positive role in one’s weight loss journey, a basic understanding of how social media works is essential. This brings us to the availability of weight loss pills, oils, and similar products that focus on individuals hoping to lose weight quickly. While some of these may be truly helpful, when buying such products, individuals must be able to differentiate a genuine product from a hoax.

How to spot a fake product?

According to the article titled “The Truth Behind Weight Loss Ads”, when looking to sell a fake product, consumers will come up with all sorts of statements to convince the buyer. Some common false promises include claims that you can lose weight without exercise or portion control, that you can eat whatever you want or that using the product will help to lose weight permanently, even setting an unrealistic timeline such as losing 30 pounds of weight in 30 days.

The article further mentioned that scammers often use fake logos, news websites, blogs, ads, and social media profiles to sell their products.

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As of late, digital platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and others have exposed users as young as sixteen years of age to weight loss pills with claims of magical transformative powers. According to The Pharmaceutical Journal, an investigation has revealed that based on social media algorithms, such ads and products are easily accessible to teenagers and adults alike, prompting experts to caution against “potential harms”.

Although such companies promise they will prevent individuals under the age of 18 from accessing their products and/or information, it is still not completely impossible. Despite Instagram (and by association Facebook/META)’s decision to impose stricter rules in 2019 – by hiding posts promoting cosmetic surgery and/or diet products – in many instances, scammers still manage to connect with the youth through other means such as the popular video sharing platform TikTok.

The Chinese company owned by ByteDance, launched for global use in 2017, has also established itself as a platform for individuals or companies promoting products including diet pills. Although community guidelines prohibit the advocacy and glorification of activities that may prompt a user to an eating disorder, depression, self-harm, or suicide, sellers still manage to promote their products. Earlier this year, TikTok issued a statement confirming that they will remove content related to eating disorders because “people can struggle with unhealthy eating patterns and behaviour without having an eating disorder diagnosis”.

Social Media ‘Community Guidelines’ united against Diet pills?

In a bid to promote community wellbeing through awareness and support, TikTok not only vowed to remove such problematic content but also promised to remove certain hashtags such as #whatieatinaday.

According to a spokesperson for the British Diabetic Association (BDA), “Diet claims that are unrealistic and not supported by evidence-based science on social media can be dangerous no matter what your age”.

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Moreover, a review published in Cyberpsychology highlighted that the time spent surfing on social media websites can be a determining factor for if an individual can/will develop an eating disorder. The review argued that increased exposure to “visualization of beauty preferences” and constant comparison to such standards can be damaging. Addressing the issue, John Wilding professor of medicine and Aintree University Hospital said that not only is it inappropriate to promote “medication for the treatment of obesity” on social media platforms targeting young people but most of the drugs prescribed as diet pills on social media “are not approved for the treatment of obesity in the UK”.

Similar reports of experts raising alarm against so-called weight loss or diet pills have been published in The Independent and The Guardian. These reports claim that experts have reason to believe epilepsy drugs and diabetes medicines are being sold under the banner of weight loss which can be severely damaging to anyone but especially to those under the age of 18.

Conclusion:

Thereby, it is essential to have an in-depth understanding that while businesses promote ‘quick fixes’ what we really need is a better perception of how weight works. Some of these may be that though weight loss is not impossible, it cannot happen without consistent effort through exercise and diet control, and though we can manage to maintain our health after weight loss it greatly depends on maintaining the adopted lifestyle and behavioral changes. Moreover, while some products may be helpful, they are not to be taken as “one-size-fits-all” because everyone has different circumstances, habits, and health concerns.

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