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ASA to meet with NHS amid concerns Love Island surgery ads pose risk to teens' mental health

Love Island has already come under fire from NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens / ITV

The Adversiting Standards Authority (ASA) is poised to meet with the NHS to discuss whether current regulations are doing enough to protect young people from ads that could fuel body insecurity.

The issue has come into the spotlight amid criticism of the cosmetic surgery campaigns that have run during ITV's hit reality show, Love Island.

NHS England's mental health director, Claire Murdoch has penned a letter to ASA chief executive Guy Parker saying the promotions served around shows like ITV's summer hit could be fueling body insecurities among teens, and subsequently called for a more proactive response from the industry body.

As well as slots from official sponsors like Lucozade and Superdrug, some episodes in this year's Love Island have been bookended by ads for weight loss aid Skinny Sprinkles and a breast enlargement spot from cosmetic surgery group Transform.

Murdoch, a registered mental health nurse,has questioned whether existing guidelines – which state that children "must be protected from ads that could cause physical, mental or moral harm” – could be made more "robust" by asking all broadcasters to subscribe to a broader duty of care for mental health.

"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 wrote.

Love Island has already come under fire from NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens, who said on BBC One’s Andrew Marr Show earlier this month, saying explicit surgery ads were "playing into a set of pressures around body image that are showing up as a burden on other [NHS] services."

He added: “I think the time has come really to think long and hard as to whether we should be exposing young people to those kinds of pressures and social media and advertising has got to look very carefully at the kinds of impacts that it is having.

“I think that’s been accepted as part of the childhood obesity strategy, but it’s as relevant in mental health.”

The ASA has said it will meet with health experts to discuss the concerns raised in Murdoch's letter, which was co-signed by Anne Longfield, the children’s commissioner and professor Wendy Burn, president of the Royal College of Psychiatrists.

A spokesperson for the regulator 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 from NHS England on this important issue and look forward to meeting with them to discuss this further."

An ITV representative told The Drum: "ITV takes its responsibility to viewers very seriously and ensures adverts broadcast during our programmes adhere to The UK Code of Broadcast Advertising's rules on the content and scheduling of advertising.”

Plans for the ASA to meet with the NHS come amid a crackdown from the regulator on ads that perpetrate gender stereotypes or sexualise women.

In London, Mayor Sadiq Khan has sought to ban 'body shaming' ads from appearing across the city's transport network. The move preceded the recent launch of Transport for London's (TfL) 'The Women We See' project, which is inviting brands to better reflect the diversity of the city's women in the capital.

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