NHS chief warns social media companies to ‘step up’ and take action over promotion of diet drugs
The NHS chief executive has warned social media companies to ‘rise to the occasion’ over the promotion of a dangerous ‘hourglass-shaped’ supplement on websites like Instagram.
Amanda Pritchard told The Telegraph that internet giants must take “concrete action” against the promotion of products such as Apetamin, an unlicensed drug touted as a quick way to gain weight.
His intervention came after this newspaper identified instances of the product being promoted on dedicated Instagram accounts last week – eight months after the NHS called on the website to “swiftly” block accounts created to promote and sell Apetamin. The accounts were only removed after The Telegraph questioned Instagram about their posts. Meta, the company behind Instagram, insisted it was “constantly working to improve detection” and said it was “in ongoing discussion with the NHS”.
The NHS fears that products such as Apetamin could cause “serious damage” to physical and mental health, at a time when record numbers of children and adolescents are already being treated for mental health conditions.
He warned that the drug is “primarily aimed at young women and girls” looking to develop an extreme hourglass figure like that of Kim Kardashian.
Tech companies should ‘adopt caregivers’ golden rule to ‘do no harm'”
His intervention comes after Luke Evans, a Tory member of the House of Commons Health Committee and a former GP, warned MPs that one in five adults now feel ‘body shame’, with the proportion rising to nearly one in three among teenagers.
Claire Murdoch, national director of mental health at NHS England, who led the health service’s work on tackling the promotion of drugs such as Apetamin, said: “Tech companies have a huge influence on the lives of young people and would do well to adopt the caregivers. golden rule of “do no harm”.
“Dangerous products like Apetamin seriously harm the physical and mental health of our young people.
“We’ve heard a lot of talk from big business, but their actions to date are simply not enough – with just three clicks, young people can still access accounts pushing substances and lifestyle products that can immediately harm the body and over time have a major impact on the mind, through devastating self-esteem and loss of self-esteem.
Ms Pritchard added: “NHS mental health services are treating a record number of children and young people and are doing so during a pandemic, but it’s time for others to step up and take real action against products that are clearly harmful.”
Last week, Instagram accounts advertising Apetamin included one that included slogans such as “Let’s go”, and posted: “Not 40 minutes after restocking and I’m almost sold out.”
Another promoted the drug as a way to “gain weight quickly”, with a phone number for those wishing to purchase the substance, which can cause fatigue, jaundice and liver failure.
Girls as young as 12 taking drugs
Previous investigations revealed that the unlicensed drug is being marketed by influencers as a way to achieve a curvy figure.
A letter from Ms Murdoch, NHS National Medical Director Professor Stephen Powis and the Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation last year said the drug could cause ‘serious harm’.
Apetamin’s popularity has been linked to the vogue for so-called hourglass figures promoted by celebrities such as Kim Kardashian.
Girls as young as 12 are said to have taken the appetite stimulant, which causes extreme drowsiness in some people who take it.
A spokesperson for Meta, the company behind Instagram, said: “The buying and selling of illegal or prescription drugs is strictly against our policies. We remove accounts selling Apetamin when we become aware of it and block related hashtags so that this content is harder to find.
“We are constantly working to improve detection and have recently started directing people searching for drug-related content on Instagram to Talk to Frank, an organization that provides honest information about drugs.
“We continue to work with law enforcement and youth organizations to help prevent drug sales of any kind from Instagram, and are in discussions with the NHS.”