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Amazon is the world's largest online retailer and the world's largest bookseller. So, when they updated their advertising guidelines a few years ago, it was a big deal that books on weight-loss got their own section in "Book Acceptability."
Amazon not only prohibits weight-loss books from being advertised at all on lockscreen ads, it also places additional restrictions on what kind of claims can be made in other types of advertising for weight-loss books. Other books in this additional restriction category include books on drug use, gambling, and financial misfortune.
It's worth nothing that weight-loss books are in the same section in this Amazon advertising policy as books whose ads need to be especially regulated because, for example, the book contains "a personal attack on a specific political candidate" or "glorifies... the abuse of legal or prescription drugs."
Why? Because the subjects covered in these books are considered "sensitive or personal in nature." That phrase leaves a lot of latitude for interpretation, but it may suggest that people who are being targeted for these books are vulnerable due to a number of factors, such as social stigma.
Unlike other book categories, weight-loss books are mentioned twice in the same policy section: once in "self-help" (in section 4.6) and then again in their own section (seen above in section 4.7) for two different reasons. Section 4.6 states that weight-loss and diet books "are prohibited on Lockscreen Ads and Sponsored Display (Audiences)." So, not just the ads are being regulated, the entire book category is being prohibited. Section 4.7 states that in other types of product targeting, diet and weight-loss book ads cannot make "unrealistic or excessive claims."
Let's examine the details of the restrictions a little more deeply:
"Ads must not... make any unrealistic or excessive claims, including, but not limited to: That customers can lose weight by merely reading the book..."
So this takes glib claims like "this book will make you thinner" off the table.
"Ads must not... make any unrealistic or excessive claims, including, but not limited to: That results are effective for everyone, or that they are permanent."
This is a big one. This line sort of concedes that weight-loss and diet programs are not scalable to the population, and that weight-loss is usually not sustained. This is just science, but the fact that this is stated matter-of-factly in a bureaucratic online document about ads is important.
"Ads must not... make any unrealistic or excessive claims, including, but not limited to: Substantial weight loss no matter what or how much the customer eats."
I don't know how many weight-loss products I've seen that promise big losses while eating whatever you want. This policy prohibits this because it's blatantly misleading.
This policy on advertising is just one tiny piece of a very big puzzle, but the fact that Amazon is regulating the diet and weight-loss industry at all - after decades of that industry being completely unchecked as it churns out unscientific claims and arguably contributes to disordered eating, body dysmorphia and fatphobia - matters because it's both a recognition of potential harm and an effort to mitigate it.
If you like articles about huge tech companies taking stands on body-related issues, read this article I wrote for Forbes.com on Google's recent release of Plus Size Insights for advertisers. Google partnered with the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance to complete the report.