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TV advertisers must do more to protect children’s mental health, says NHS England

Letter to Advertising Standards Authority cites risk of body image pressures 
TV & body image

The mental health chief for NHS England has written to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) questioning whether the regulator is doing enough to protect children.

NHS England national director for mental health Claire Murdoch, who is a registered mental health nurse, urged the ASA to consider introducing a duty of care for mental health to be imposed on broadcast advertisers.

The letter questions whether existing guidelines to protect children from harm are sufficiently robust, and cites an advertisement for cosmetic surgery that appeared during a commercial break in ITVs Love Island.

Ms Murdoch wrote: Not only are there clear risks associated with cosmetic surgery, but placed alongside the body image pressures that can be inherent in many online and social media interactions, adverts such as these could pose a risk to mental health.

She also pointed out that the risk was

The mental health chief for NHS England has written to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) questioning whether the regulator is doing enough to protect children.


Picture: iStock

NHS England national director for mental health Claire Murdoch, who is a registered mental health nurse, urged the ASA to consider introducing a duty of care for mental health to be imposed on broadcast advertisers.

The letter questions whether existing guidelines to protect children from harm are sufficiently robust, and cites an advertisement for cosmetic surgery that appeared during a commercial break in ITV’s Love Island.

Ms Murdoch wrote: ‘Not only are there clear risks associated with cosmetic surgery, but placed alongside the body image pressures that can be inherent in many online and social media interactions, adverts such as these could pose a risk to mental health.’

She also pointed out that the risk was ‘particularly acute’ among children and teenagers.

The letter, co-signed by president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists Wendy Burn, and the children’s commissioner for England Anne Longfield, adds weight to growing concerns about body image pressures.

‘An important intervention’

Mental Health Network chief executive Sean Duggan praised NHS England for bringing attention to the subject.

Mr Duggan said: ‘We know young women are the fastest-growing group experiencing mental health issues, that anxiety problems are more common among females aged 16 to 24, and that a quarter of women in this age bracket have reported self-harming.

‘Issues around body image will only add fuel to the fire, so this is an important intervention that our members support.

‘TV advertising has long been scrutinised for potential impact on physical health, and it is right that we look harder at the effect it can have on our mental health, particularly of vulnerable children and young people.’

Lack of funding

Mr Duggan also said his members were doing ‘fantastic work’ in treating people with mental health problems but said services were lacking the funding they needed.

He added: ‘The long-term NHS investment plan is the perfect opportunity to put this right – it is vital that mental health gets its fair share of this funding.’

NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens has also criticised social media websites and television advertising for exacerbating body image pressures. Speaking on BBC One’s Andrew Marr show on 1 July, he said it was not solely the NHS’s job to tackle young people’s eating disorders and mental illness.

‘The time has come to think long and hard as to whether we should be exposing young people to those kind of pressures, and social media and advertising have got to look very carefully at the kind of impact they are having,’ he said.

An ASA spokesperson said: ‘The protection of children sits at the heart of the advertising rules and the work of the ASA.

‘We welcome the thoughts and input of NHS England on this important issue, and look forward to meeting with them to discuss this further.’


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