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Pinterest bans weight loss ads in measure to increase 'body acceptance' among users

"There's no such thing as one-size-fits-all," tech company says.

Published: July 2, 2021 1:49pm

Updated: July 5, 2021 10:20pm

Social media company Pinterest this week announced it would be banning advertisements on its servers related to weight loss, a move the company said "embraces body acceptance."

The move comes amid a wider push for "body positivity" throughout U.S. and global culture. That movement, according to the wellness brand Verywell, asserts that "all people deserve to have a positive body image, regardless of how society and popular culture view ideal shape, size, and appearance." The philosophy advocates "enjoying the body you have and not beating yourself up over changes that happen naturally due to aging, pregnancy, or lifestyle choices."

Pinterest in its announcement on Thursday cited research indicating "a steep rise in unhealthy eating habits and eating disorders in young people since the COVID-19 pandemic started last year," with young men and women allegedly feeling "added pressure as they look to rejoin their social circles in person for the first time in 15 months."

As of yesterday, the company said, it would prohibit "all ads with weight loss language and imagery" on its servers. 

"This stance makes Pinterest the only major platform to prohibit all weight loss ads," the announcement boasted. "It's an expansion of our ad policies that have long prohibited body shaming and dangerous weight loss products or claims. We encourage others in the industry to do the same and acknowledge, once and for all, that there's no such thing as one-size-fits-all."

''Many major health issues'

The body positivity movement and its still-extant predecessor the "fat acceptance movement" have divided health officials in recent years, with some asserting that overweight individuals can still lead healthy lives and others claiming that a culture that fails to view excess weight negatively risks promoting unhealthy habits. 

Esther Rose Park, a registered dietitian and nutritionist in Winter Park, Fla., said Pinterest's decision was "a good thing" in light of research indicating the ineffectiveness of dieting. 

"All the good research," Park told Just the News via phone, "shows that 95% of people who lose weight on a diet gain it back within 3 years, and 98% gain it back within 5 years. What that tells us is that dieting is not effective long-term."

The 95% statistic has been challenged by researchers in recent years, with more promising figures emerging in recent studies. But Park, who specializes in the prevention and treatment of eating disorders and chronic dieting, argued the overall methodology of the study of obesity tends to be flawed. 

"I would say that with most of the studies that show ill effects of obesity, we have to look at the subjects that they study," she said. "Most people with obesity have been dieting, many of them chronically. They're doing studies on people that are not basically healthy."

Park, who prefers the phrase "people who are in large bodies" to other clinical or negative descriptors of overweight people, said the "key" to being "healthy at any size" is a broader set of lifestyle choices. She argued that "if people are active and eating well, getting three meals a day, eating adequate protein, adequate fiber, and fat" then they will be healthy, even if they're overweight by modern clinical standards. 

She noted that those assessments center largely around individuals who might be 50-100 pounds overweight. "I'm not talking about 500-pound people," she said. 

Edward Giovannucci, a professor of medicine at Harvard University who specializes in part in nutrition-related malignancies, argued in contrast that the larger "body positivity" movement "may be counterproductive to good health."

"Excess weight undoubtedly causes many major health issues, including diabetes, heart disease, and 12 types of cancer, among many other deadly conditions," he argued. 

"Of course, we shouldn't discriminate against people based on their physical appearance," he added. "I think that more emphasis should be given on encouraging healthy life patterns, especially on physical activity and healthy dietary patterns. Focusing on these may be more productive than focusing on body weight alone, and these are important to help control body weight."

Obesity in the U.S. has skyrocketed in recent years. The CDC estimates that between 1999-2018 the obesity rate jumped about 30%, while the "severe obesity" rate nearly doubled. 

Conditions associated with obesity "include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer," according to the CDC, which cites those ailments as "among the leading causes of preventable, premature death."

Evidence of chronic health issues notwithstanding, the push for more visibility and acceptance of fatness has ramped up in recent years. Victoria's Secret, for instance, hired its first plus-sized model in 2019. Some brands have taken an even more radical approach. Cosmopolitan, for example, placed model Tess Holliday on its cover in October 2018; Holliday reportedly claimed at one point to weigh nearly 300 pounds.

Though Giovannucci and Park gave divergent assessments about weight overall, both voiced similar convictions about the alleged ineffectiveness of dieting.

"Dieting is not effective long-term," Park said, pointing instead to "eating in moderation, not overeating, not restricting or dieting."

Giovannucci offered a similar assessment, echoing Park's beliefs about overall lifestyle being more effective than structured eating plans. 

"People who are moderate to highly physically active are more likely to not gain excess weight," he said. "Health diet and physical activity are much more effective than fad diets and supplements in the long run."

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