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Social media platforms send mixed messages on muscle-building supplements

Article-Social media platforms send mixed messages on muscle-building supplements

© iStock/Pheelings Media Social media platforms send mixed messages on muscle-building supplements
Experts have drawn attention to discrepancies between the strict social media policies applied to illegal muscle-building drugs and those pertaining to legal supplements.

While user-generated and advertising content related to illegal muscle-building drugs is prohibited across all social media platforms, legal muscle-building dietary supplements face few restrictions, the study in Substance Use and Misuse found.

“These findings are concerning given that the use of muscle-building dietary supplements can have negative social and behavioural effects, which adolescents and young adults may be particularly susceptible to,” said lead author Kyle T Ganson, assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work. “There is a need for robust social media policies, as well as federal public policies in Canada, to protect the health and wellbeing of these populations.”

Muscle-building supplements: Social media platforms send mixed signals

The study found that user-generated content and advertising related to illegal muscle-building drugs, such as anabolic-androgenic steroids, were prohibited across all social media platforms.

However, content related to legal muscle-building dietary supplements, such as creatine monohydrate and whey protein, had few restrictions, despite the fact that use of these dietary products is common among adolescents and young adults.

“While all social media companies had policies prohibiting the content and advertising of illegal muscle-building drugs, there were varying and weaker policies related to legal muscle-building dietary supplement content and advertising,” the authors concluded.These weaker policies may influence use among young peo­ple.

Social media ‘a major driver’ of muscle-building supplement use

The findings are particularly concerning given the prevalence of social media use among young people. More than 50% of adolescents globally spend more than two hours a day on an electronic device, and users are exposed to user-generated content and advertisements from all over the world.

© AdobeStock/Miljan ŽivkovićSocial media platforms send mixed messages on muscle-building supplements

“Social media is a major driver of the use of muscle-building dietary supplements among adolescents and young adults, and many young people seek out information on the purported benefits and means of use of these supplements via social media,” said Ganson.

“It is important that healthcare, public health, and policymaking professionals are alerted to the major gap in content and advertising policies regulating what is posted on social media and how this may influence the behaviours of young people.”

Social media platforms urged to implement stricter policies

The authors conclude that there is a need for social media companies to implement stricter and explicit content and advertising policies related to muscle-building dietary supplements, as well as to improve oversight of users and advertisers via algorithms and moderators.

“Stronger policies related to legal muscle-building dietary supplements are needed given the high occurrence of use among young people and the potential adverse effects of use,” they wrote.

While research has examined social media companies’ content policies on alcohol, tobacco, and unhealthy foods or beverages, there is a lack of studies on policies related to muscle-building drugs or dietary supplements.

The authors suggested that platforms may wish to consider aligning supplement advertising policies with those of weight loss products by “prohibiting content and advertising that influences poor body image and esteem while fostering a healthy online environment for next generations”.