n ad that’s been running on Instagram for the past few weeks shows a young woman sitting on a bed eating a toaster pastry. It then cuts to her eating a donut surrounded by popcorn, chips, donuts and other foods with the message: “Those who live by impulse, eat by impulse.” The ad goes on to suggest that obesity is five times more common among adults with ADHD, but that mental health startup Cerebral can provide “the tools and proper medication to change impulsive habits.” The ad then cuts to the same woman smiling and eating a salad.
According to a report by a, Cerebral ran over 30 advertisements featuring this imagery during December. Cerebral connects patients with prescriptions and therapy for mental disorders. SME analysis. Instagram announced Friday that they had confirmed the following: SMECerebral violated its policies regarding eating disorders and body images. “These ads violate our policies and have been removed. We don’t allow content that attempts to generate negative self-perception in order to promote health-related products,” Meta Spokesperson Stephanie Chan said in a statement. (As of 5:30pm, four ads with the imagery still remained in Cerebral’s Facebook ad transparency library.)
Cerebral didn’t immediately reply to our request for comment. SoftBank Vision Fund 2 raised $300 million for the startup that has cared more than 200 000 patients since its launch in 2020. It was valued at $4.8billion in December. SMEIt was previously reported that Cerebral had failed to pay salaries and provided health benefits for hundreds therapists during the summer. One of Cerebral’s primary spokespersons is Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, who joined as chief impact officer last year and is frequently featured on its social media channels. According to their ad transparency page, the company often runs at least 90 Instagram ads per day. Many ads that promote weight loss, ADHD medication and anxiety treatment are targeted at young women.
Instagram and Facebook, its parent company, have been under criticism for their awareness that images on Instagram may be dangerous. This is especially true when it comes to teenage girls’ body image and mental well-being. In February 2021, Instagram publicly announced new eating disorder policies prohibiting “content that promotes or encourages self-harm and eating disorders.” The company also prohibits “before-and-after” images and ads that use negative self-perception; weight-loss products and cosmetic procedure ads are limited to people 18 and over.
“Seeing images of people engaging in eating disorder behaviors can be really challenging for people who are actively struggling, or at risk of struggling, from an eating disorder,” says Lauren Smolar, senior director of programs at the National Eating Disorders Association. “We do recommend when possible avoiding those types of imagery.”
These types of posts are still being shared on Instagram by Cerebral, as shown in the Cerebral commercial. The ads ran under titles like “How ADHD Impacts Eating Habits,” “How ADHD Can Cause Impulsive Eating,” and “My ADHD forced me to overeat.” While the young woman remained the same in almost every ad, the first few seconds of the ads varied, including showing the woman grabbing a cake with both hands and other images like a glass being filled with chocolate milk, a giant slice of cake, a plate filling up with corn chips or a mug filling up with Cheez-Its.
People with eating disorders may find the images triggerful because they can invoke an unhealthy relationship to food and overeating. Smolar also says that if certain imagery is used to represent disordered food, it can lead people to believe that they are the only ones who eat those foods. “And that can be really hard for people who might not identify with those particular images to then recognize that they themselves may be worthy of treatment.”
You can call the National Eating Disorders Hotline at 800-931-2237 if you are suffering from an eating disorder or a loved one.