Of the 100 videos, the researchers found that nearly a third were promoting diet pills. Under the word “diet pills,” organic posts mentioned prescription drugs for epilepsy, migraines, and addiction. The Guardian noted that some posts that the magazine flagged to TikTok were eventually removed.
In 2020, the company updated its policies to ban ads for fasting apps and weight loss supplements and limit ads for “weight management products” to users over 18. However, The Pharmaceutical Journal’s test account was able to find posts selling diet pills. Some users also made daily video diaries or shared before-and-after photos while taking the medication to show noticeable weight loss.
Unsubstantiated weight loss claims are dangerous for both adults and teens, health care experts told The Pharmaceutical Journal.
TikTok did not immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment, but it told The Guardian that the promotion or trade of controlled substances – including prescription diet pills – is not allowed on the platform, and content that violates this policy will be removed.
There has been an issue of marketing medical treatments as a way to lose weight on TikTok. In January, the platform — along with Instagram — pulled ads linking obesity to ADHD from healthcare startup Cerebral, which it said patients might seek treatment for ADHD to stop overeating.
TikTok has been forced to respond to harmful dieting content on its platform in the past. A detailed 2021 report from The Wall Street Journal shows how TikTok’s algorithms are pushing young girls toward diet and weight loss videos and sending them down a potentially dangerous rabbit hole. The report came a day after TikTok announced that it was working to diversify recommendations so that users wouldn’t be overwhelmed by a stream of similar content.