Bye bye BMI: Pinterest bans weight loss ads in first for major social networks

Pinterest is banning all advertisements with weight loss language and imagery, including ads that idealise or denigrate certain body types, the social media company says.

The popular, picture-led social network, which allows users to create and share mood boards, said it would also not allow ads with testimonials about weight loss or weight loss products, or ads referencing body mass index (BMI) or similar indexes.

“This stance makes Pinterest the only major platform to prohibit all weight loss ads. It’s an expansion of our ad policies that have long prohibited body shaming and dangerous weight loss products or claims,” the company said in a blog post on Thursday.

Ads promoting healthy lifestyles, habits or fitness services and products are still allowed on the platform if they do not “focus on weight loss”. The company said it had developed the policy with guidance from the National Eating Disorders Association.

Sarah Bromma, Pinterest’s head of policy, said in an interview that the rule change prioritised Pinterest users’ “emotional and mental health and wellbeing, especially those directly impacted by eating disorders or diet culture or body shaming”.

Weight loss brands’ spending on advertising across TV, digital and print formats reached $372 million between January and June 2021, up 89% compared to the same period last year, according to advertising intelligence firm MediaRadar. It reported a 120% increase in year-on-year spending for weight loss ads on Facebook.

Pinterest reports that more than 60% of its users globally are female. The company has long grappled with combating pro-eating disorder content on its platform – since 2015 it has blocked searches for this kind of content, and directed users to expert organisations. The service already has rules agains ads promoting weight loss pills and those containing before-and-after weight-loss imagery.

In April 2021 rival social network Instagram issued an apology after a “mistake” resulted in weight loss content being promoted to users with eating disorders. In 2019, Instagram blocked ads promoting weight loss and cosmetic surgery for users under 18, and cracked down on posts promoting content that made “miraculous” weight loss claims.