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IPA alerts members to change in rules on advertising to obese people

The IPA would like to bring members’ attention to CAP and BCAP Code amendments around references to people who are obese in weight loss advertising.


They are amending rules in their Codes to allow advertisers of lifestyle weight loss programmes, which meet particular criteria, to make reference to obesity in their advertising, and therefore target people who are obese.

Up until now such advertisers have been prohibited from targeting obese people because their programmes do not meet the Codes’ requirement that services be supervised by a suitably qualified healthcare professional.

The changes take effect from 12 November 2015. Mindful of the potential impact of the rule change CAP and BCAP will undertake a review of the effect of the change in 12 months’ time.

Read the full CAP and BCAP statement below.

Providing greater freedom to advertise responsible weight loss programmes
12 November 2015

After careful consideration, including a full public consultation, we have today announced changes to the advertising rules that will allow, for the first time, advertisers of responsible lifestyle weight loss programmes to make reference to obesity in their advertising, and therefore target people who are obese.

The prevalence of obesity and its effect on public health is well documented and this change to the rules comes against a backdrop of wider public policy initiatives to try and tackle it. Due to restrictions in the Advertising Codes that are designed to protect consumers, specifically by ensuring that ads do not discourage essential treatment for certain serious medical conditions (of which obesity is one), marketers of lifestyle weight loss programmes have, until now, been prevented from targeting obese individuals. 

In light of the fact that some of these programmes have become recognised as safe and effective ways for people to lose weight, we consider it is disproportionate to prohibit them from advertising their services to people who are obese. This rule change provides those who want help in losing weight, and who might benefit from a lifestyle weight loss programme, with more information, choice and support. 

Only those advertisers who meet particular criteria will be able to make reference to and target people who are obese. In order to meet the criteria, weight loss programmes must: 

  • be shown to be effective at 12 months or beyond
  • last at least three months
  • be multi-component; addressing dietary intake, physical activity levels and behaviour change
  • be developed by a multi-disciplinary team; including input from a registered dietitian, registered practitioner psychologist and a qualified physical activity instructor
  • be provided by staff who are trained to deliver the programme in question

While obesity and its health impacts are no less serious than before, and some providers of weight loss services will have greater freedom to advertise, the Advertising Codes contain broad principles that will require the depiction of and references to obesity to be prepared responsibly and avoid causing harm or offence. This, along with the strict criteria that weight loss programmes will have to meet before they can make reference to and target obese people, underlines the emphasis that will be placed on responsible advertising.

We have updated our Guidance on ‘Health, beauty and slimming marketing communications that refer to medical conditions’ as well as our AdviceOnline entry to reflect the new position.

The rules come into immediate effect. As the change to the rules is significant, CAP will conduct a review of the effect of the rules in 12 months’ time.

Director of the Committees of Advertising Practice, Shahriar Coupal said: “These new rules strike a sensible balance; providing weight loss management programmes that meet necessary criteria the freedom to target their advertising at people who are obese while ensuring the right level of protections for consumers are in place.”

Read the full Regulatory Statement and evaluation of responses

Last updated 13/11/2015

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