Dietary supp industry needs a dose of its own medicine

Dietary supp industry needs a dose of its own medicine

The Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), a dietary supplement industry trade group, is in a tought spot.  On the one hand, it must aggresively promote the appearance of being sincerely concerned about consumer protection. On the other hand, it must agresssively work to prevent any meaningful regulation that would protect consumers. 

In a just-issued press release, the CRN announced an on-line tool (for members only) that would track Federal Trade Commission enforcement actions against dietary supplement companies.  

"CRN's searchable compilation indicates that the weight loss category generated the highest settlement costs at $438.4 million, with immunity claims next in line with settlements of $47.2 million and impermissible cancer claims at a distant, but relevant, third place, with claims settlements of $5 million.  Said Mr. [Steve] Mister [CRN President & CEO]"We're now also starting to see enforcement trends in anti-aging claims and claims addressing diabetes. The data illustrates how active FTC has been in recent years and should be a warning to all companies that the agency will move aggressively to remove claims that it believes mislead consumers."

According to Mister:

"We developed this tool as a service to our member companies so they have a one-stop location to review the kinds of claims that have led to FTC investigations, consent degrees and punitive financial settlements. Companies can study these cases, look at examples of language that put others under FTC scrutiny for enforcement--and then avoid using such language in their own advertising."  

Or perhaps learn how to skate around federal regulations by being more clever in their advertising.  

The FTC database goes back to 2003, so that's just under $481 million in FTC settlements with supplement companies over an almost 11 year period.  In 2011 alone, the dietary supplement industry grossed about $30 billion. This agressive enforcement must have the supplement industry absolutely terrified of the FTC.

In recent testimony before a Congressional committee on weight-loss products, Mister, to his credit, urged government agencies to go after the supplement companies who "make outrageous claims that promise the weight will fall off without changing what you eat, and without exercise." So what are the facts regarding dietary supplements and weight loss? According to Mister,

"a number of dietary ingredients in weight loss supplements, when combined with moderate exercise programs and sensible eating, have been shown in well-regarded clinical trials to be safe and effective for weight management. The truth is that many dietary supplements, meal replacement programs and specially formulated foods can be beneficial as part of a weight management program. They can increase weight loss over diet and and exercise alone, and can help people lead more active lifestyles that help to keep the pounds off."

I'm not sure what a "well-regarded" clinical trail is. The term doesn't have any meaning in medicine or science, as best I can tell.  Is it one published in a high-impact journal? Published at all?  Is it an RCT?  I would look at the trials Mister had in mind but he doesn't cite to them, although there are other citations in this copy of his testimony. 

WebMD begs to differ with the CRN on the subject of dietary supplements and weight loss:

Looking for supplements and herbal remedies for weight loss?  There isn't a lot of science backing up the claims, and some have health risks

I guess WebMD didn't find those "well-regarded" studies in the literature. 

The FTC itself says:

Advertising claims for weight loss products and services inevitably over-promise. The products and services themselves almost always under-deliver. Changing your diet and exercising more are the keys to successful weight loss.

The dietary supplement industry has consistently opposed more stringent regulation of supplements, including giving consumers more safety and effectiveness information or tougher adverse events reporting requirements.  As in this case, the industry prefers that the government go after the most egregious offenders, after the fact, rather than clean up the whole industry so that these events don't happen in the first place.  It is ironic that an industry so invested in convincing people that dietary supplements are a great way to prevent problems doesn't want to take a dose of its own medicine.But an ounce of prevention would be worth a pound of cure. 













Points of Interest 8/25/2014
Points of Interest 8/22/2014