Influencers have more to do to tackle diet culture

Senator Annie Hoey image
13 December 2022

Labour Senator and Oireachtas Health Committee member Annie Hoey said influencers must do more to safeguard against the proliferation of diet culture online.

In response to research from the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) showing a widespread failure of influencers to label content as advertising, Senator Hoey reiterated her call for social media giants to take a lead role in stopping harmful content relating to diet culture spreading online.

Senator Hoey said:

“I have long raised the impact of diet culture online and the rise of incidents of people presenting with eating disorders, particularly during the Covid lockdowns. Diet culture on social media is something that needs to be tackled. These influencers live in our pockets on our phones, and if they are not transparent about the sometimes harmful eating and exercise patterns some promote, it can have a detrimental impact on people vulnerable to experiencing an eating disorder. What is most pervasive about this type of information is that it is promoted directly by people who users admire, on a platform they trust.

“The CCPC research highlights the impact that these influencers have on their followers, finding that 66% of consumers who follow influencers purchase a product as a result of an influencer mentioning it. There’s no doubt that their followers will also follow diets, restrict certain foods or take up particular exercises based on their recommendations. We need to do more to tackle potential harmful messages like this online.

“Last year, I wrote to the large social media networks asking them to consider proactive interventions on their sites to provide information for eating disorders on posts connected with diet culture, similar to the manner in which Covid-19 information was shared during the pandemic.

“If influencers were encouraged to take a proactive decision to include information about eating disorders on potentially triggering posts, this could be a strong intervention in its own right. We know that what we see on social media is often idealised, with good angles and better filters. Posts that are altered should be labelled by content creators as so. Posts that encourage unhealthy diet and exercise regimes should be accompanied with information labels – this element must be led by the social media giants.

“Of course, this is not a panacea. The unfortunate reality is that treatment for people suffering from eating disorders is simply not receiving the funding it so desperately needs.

“GPs and social workers continue to report that they can’t provide the integrated community-based supports that people need. I have raised this time and again at the Health Committee. It’s not good enough that we have a situation where people who can afford to pay for private care get the help while others have to get lucky on the post code lottery.

“Diet culture on social media is something that needs to be tackled. In the run up to Christmas, a very challenging time for anyone experiencing an eating disorder, I would urge all influencers to be more conscious of posting triggering content, and reiterate my call to social media giants to take the lead in protecting those who are vulnerable.”

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