People wasting billions of dollars on 'quack' health food products

Nov 26, 2008

Globally every year, obese people waste billions of pounds on food products that 'imply' that they aid weight loss, but are totally ineffective, says a nutritional expert on bmj.com today.

Professor Lean from the University of Glasgow, is hopeful that a new European Union (EU) Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices, adopted this year in UK, will finally protect vulnerable consumers who are tricked into to buying useless food products or supplements in attempts to combat their disease.

Unlike medicines, food products that are marketed for health reasons are not subject to the same stringent research trials and control, and consumers are often misled.

It is already illegal for unsubstantiated claims to be made about the composition or nutritional function of food products, eg. that they are low in fat, high in fibre or help lower cholesterol, and it is also illegal to claim that a food can treat or prevent any disease—including obesity. However, many unsubstantiated health claims are still made, or implied. Misleading marketing can be found within brand names and images on packaging, in shelf or shop names, or on websites which suggest that products help weight control, are slimming, or are "Health Foods", when there is no evidence.

Lean is concerned that obese people have been fooled into parting with billions of pounds every year on products that cannot help them. In 2000, people in the US spent $35bn (£22bn) on weight loss products, many of them making false and unsubstantiated claims.

The "commercial exploitation of vulnerable patients with quack medicines" will hopefully be brought to an end with the introduction of the new EU directive, say Lean. However, the laws need to be enforced proactively to enable doctors and consumers to move towards managing diseases confidently with evidence based treatment and diet programmes.

He points out that, of all the hundreds of products currently on sale to help people lose weight, only energy-restricted diets and exercise, the drugs orlistat and sibutramine, and in some cases bariatric surgery, are safe, effective and cost-effective. The remainder, he says, are either not effective or not safe.

The new regulations "may even help with the bigger battle to prevent obesity, by prohibiting advertisements across the EU that encourage children to buy energy dense products or to pester their parents to buy them", he adds.

Source: British Medical Journal

Explore further: Experts call for higher exam pass marks to close performance gap between international and UK medical graduates

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Building better soybeans for a hot, dry, hungry world

22 hours ago

(Phys.org) —A new study shows that soybean plants can be redesigned to increase crop yields while requiring less water and helping to offset greenhouse gas warming. The study is the first to demonstrate ...

Can science eliminate extreme poverty?

20 hours ago

Science has often come to the rescue when it comes to the world's big problems, be it the Green Revolution that helped avoid mass starvation or the small pox vaccine that eradicated the disease. There is ...

Meteorites yield clues to Martian early atmosphere

16 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Geologists who analyzed 40 meteorites that fell to Earth from Mars unlocked secrets of the Martian atmosphere hidden in the chemical signatures of these ancient rocks. Their study, published ...

From red Mars to green Earth

Apr 15, 2014

How can a sensor for analysing the atmosphere of Mars help us to cut greenhouse emissions on Earth? By going where no human or machine has been before.

Research offers 'promise' of improved food safety

Apr 15, 2014

The issue of food safety has rocketed up the political agenda in recent years but despite huge improvements, some concerns and problems still persist. Fears about our food are moving away from issues about ...

Recommended for you

Obese British man in court fight for surgery

Jul 11, 2011

A British man weighing 22 stone (139 kilograms, 306 pounds) launched a court appeal Monday against a decision to refuse him state-funded obesity surgery because he is not fat enough.

2008 crisis spurred rise in suicides in Europe

Jul 08, 2011

The financial crisis that began to hit Europe in mid-2008 reversed a steady, years-long fall in suicides among people of working age, according to a letter published on Friday by The Lancet.

New food labels dished up to keep Europe healthy

Jul 06, 2011

A groundbreaking deal on compulsory new food labels Wednesday is set to give Europeans clear information on the nutritional and energy content of products, as well as country of origin.

Overweight men have poorer sperm count

Jul 04, 2011

Overweight or obese men, like their female counterparts, have a lower chance of becoming a parent, according to a comparison of sperm quality presented at a European fertility meeting Monday.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Cancer stem cells linked to drug resistance

Most drugs used to treat lung, breast and pancreatic cancers also promote drug-resistance and ultimately spur tumor growth. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine have discovered ...

Making graphene in your kitchen

Graphene has been touted as a wonder material—the world's thinnest substance, but super-strong. Now scientists say it is so easy to make you could produce some in your kitchen.