Weight control: Medical procedures


INSIGHT
Published
Jun 25th '24
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The Committee of Advertising Practice  (CAP)  Copy Advice team is asked to advise on ads for stomach stapling, liposuction, liposculpture, laser lipolysis, focused ultrasound, tummy tucks and other weight control procedures. Such procedures might be offered in the UK or abroad.

 

Substantiation

As with all objective claims, advertisers must hold rigorous evidence that their products or services work in the way their ads claim. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint for i-Lipo, a non-invasive procedure because it had not seen suitable evidence which showed that the treatment could reduce fat and improve the appearance of cellulite, both of which were considered to be breakthrough claims (The Contour Clinic, 21 August 2013). See Weight control: Cellulite. The ASA also found that weight loss claims for a ‘cryo-belt’ had not been substantiated (L(A)B Life and Beauty, 16 December 2020).

 

CAP has no objection to proven procedures being advertised as long as the procedures are carried out under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional. More information can be found at www.cqc.org.uk. Marketers should nevertheless hold evidence in the form of clinical trials, to support efficacy claims.

 

Marketers should not state or imply that a device is medically certified if it is not (Advanced Esthetics Solutions Ltd, 13 November 2013).

 

Social responsibility

Marketers of cosmetic surgery abroad should bear in mind that linking surgery to a holiday may trivialise the decision to undergo the procedure. (Estheday and Egemed Hastaneleri, 10 May 2023). If advertising a package, marketers can mention elements of the package, such as hotels and flights, but ads should first and foremost present the service as cosmetic surgery rather than a vacation.

 

Ads should not exploit the vulnerabilities or insecurities of their potential clients; the ASA ruled against an ad that referred to “inner beauty” and “permanent beauty”.  These references, alongside the image of a slim woman holding a balloon while she pointed to her stomach, and an illustration of a gastric balloon in a stomach, implied that having a body that did not conform to prevailing beauty standards of slimness was a problem that could be rectified by surgery. (Aspro Atlantic Medikal Turizm Ticaret Limited Şirketi, 27 September 2023).  The term “mommy makeover” in an ad for tummy tucks and liopsuction was also ruled to be irresponsible because it exploited mothers’ insecurities around body image. (Grand Clinic, 11 October 2023)

 

See Cosmetic Interventions: social responsibilitySocial responsibility: Body imageCosmetic surgery

 

Before and after photos

CAP and the ASA regard the use of before and after photos in the same way as testimonials. Marketers should therefore ensure that they meet the requirements of rules 3.45 to 3.48 and 13.1 of the CAP Code, and note that testimonials which are not supported by trials do not constitute adequate substantiation. They should hold signed and dated proof that the photos are genuine and have not been manipulated (Lipstick Gangster Ltd, 12 July 2023). See Weight control: TestimonialsClaims in testimonials and endorsements and Before and After Photos

 

Pain and safety

Liposculpture or liposuction is an invasive surgical procedure that involves sucking fat out of the body to shape the figure. Amongst other claims, marketers should not describe the procedure as “safe”, “painless”, “permanent”, “scar free” or an “alternative to exercise” (May Health Tourism Services, 24 January 2024) (UAB Forma Perfecta, 11 October 2023). See Beauty and Cosmetics: “Non-surgical” and “surgical” type claims

 

Specific body parts

Ad rules stipulates that marketers should not claim that weight can be lost from specific parts of body. In 2012 the ASA upheld a complaint for Non-surgical Ultrasonic Liposuction where the marketer claimed that inches could be lost from the “Stomach, Back, Hips, Legs & Arms” and that losing weight was easy, especially from “stubborn fatty areas like your belly, hips, arms and legs” The ASA upheld the complaint because it is unacceptable to claim that people can lose a precise amounts of weight within a stated period, or that weight or fat can be lost from specific parts of the body, except through invasive procedures. Moreover, claims such as, “The frequency of the sound wave targets fat cells, causing them to turn into a liquefied state” and “Our treatments…get to work on your unwanted fat cells” were considered objective slimming claims. Because the advertiser had been unable to prove the claims, the ASA instructed the advertiser not to repeat them (The Slimline Clinic, 17 October 2012).

 

Consultation

Marketers should encourage consumers to take independent medical advice before committing themselves to significant treatments, including those that are physically invasive.  In the case of surgical procedures, ads should make clear that pre-consultations were required and where those would take place. (Estheday, 10 May 2023).

 

Ad labelling

The Code makes clear that marketing communications must be obviously identifiable as such, and they must make clear their commercial intent if that is not obvious from the context. The ASA upheld complaints about a social media ad for liposuction because it did not indicate in the title, thumbnail or caption that the video was an ad and so its commercial intent was not clear. (Doctor Burgos de la Obra SLP 18 October 2023)

 

Source: CAP

 

About CAP

The CAP is the sister organisation of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) and is responsible for writing the Advertising Codes.

 

Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.

 

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