Currently browsing posts about: Probiotics

Jul 14 2010

FTC forces Nestlé to settle questionable probiotic marketing claim

While I’m on the subject of the FTC (see yesterday’s post), let’s congratulate the agency for going after the Nestlé (no relation) corporation for marketing a product aimed at kids with misleading, deceptive, and—according to the FDA—illegal health claims.  The FTC settlement announcement says that

from fall 2008 to fall 2009, Nestlé HealthCare Nutrition, Inc. made deceptive claims in television, magazine, and print ads that BOOST Kid Essentials prevents upper respiratory tract infections in children, protects against colds and flu by strengthening the immune system, and reduces absences from daycare or school due to illness.

Nestlé must have introduced this product in 2008 because bloggers (of the sponsored kind) were promoting its benefits in September that year.  One said:

BOOST Kid Essentials is a nutritionally complete drink intended for children ages 1 to 13.  The probiotics in BOOST Kid Essentials are embedded in a straw that comes with the drink, which was prominently featured in ads for the product.  Probiotics are live, beneficial bacteria that are found naturally in many foods, and they are known for aiding digestion and fighting harmful bacteria.

This blogger’s enthusiasm for the product—“parenting solved”—quotes two studies, one done with adults using the straw and another with kids in day care whose infant formula was supplemented with one of the bacteria used in the adult study.  Both studies look preliminary to me, as they must have to the FTC.

In February 2009, in what reads like a company advertisement, another (sponsored) blogger wrote:

BOOST Kid Essentials Drink is the only nutritionally complete drink that provides kids ages 1 through 13 with immune-strengthening probiotics plus complete, balanced nutrition. Just one daily serving of the probiotic found in the BOOST Kid Essentials Drink straw has been clinically shown to help strengthen the immune system. BOOST Kid Essentials Drink is perfect for children who are below growth percentiles, having trouble gaining weight, resisting eating enough nutritious foods, or needing extra nutrition to help maintain an active lifestyle.

But in December 2009, the FDA  issued a letter to the company warning it that it was marketing this product as a drug:

this product is misbranded under…the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act… because the label is false or misleading in that the product is labeled and marketed as a medical food but does not meet the statutory definition of a medical food in the Orphan Drug Act…Furthermore, this product is promoted for conditions that cause it to be a drug under section 201(g)(1)(B) of the Act…The therapeutic claims on your website establish that this product is a drug because it is intended for use in the cure, mitigation, treatment, or prevention of disease.

The warning letter didn’t get into the business of whether probiotics really do any good (the European Food Safety Authority certainly doesn’t think so) or whether “healthy” bacteria stay live and active in a straw stuck in the packaging of a kids’ drink.  The company must not have wanted to get into all that, so it settled.  The probiotic straw no longer comes with the package.

Nestlé is the largest food company in the world with earnings that exceed $100 billion annually.  It should have known better.

Update, July 15: Since the FTC imposed no penalties on Nestlé,  analysts expect class action lawsuits to follow in due course.  And here’s the account in the New York Times (I’m quoted).

Sep 29 2009

Health claims for yogurt? Really?

I like yogurt.  But do probiotics – those “friendly” bacteria in yogurt and  increasingly added to other foods – do anything for you beyond making yogurt taste good?  I wrote about probiotics in What to Eat at some length.  Tara Parker-Pope has a quick summary of the state of the research in today’s New York Times.

The quick answer is mixed.  It includes a lot of  “maybe” or “probably,” always a sign that whatever probiotics might do isn’t going to be much.  The answer is probably yes for infant diarrhea and, maybe, irritable bowel syndrome, and maybe or no for just about everything else.

In the absence of FDA action to regulate misleading health claims, lawyers have jumped into the breach.  They have just won a large class-action settlement – $35 million – against Dannon for claiming that Activia yogurt promotes immunity.   According to one news account, Dannon spent $100 million marketing the immunity-promoting effects of Activia ignoring the results of its own company-sponsored research which inconveniently showed few benefits.  (Did they not pay enough for the research?).

Dannon is working hard to get an approved health claim from the European Standards Agency which annoyingly wants to see some science behind health claims before approving them.  Dannon has now added a tomato extract to its yogurts with the idea that this substance, which appears to help deal with diarrhea, will strengthen its bid for a health claim.

Probiotics are another reason why the FDA needs to set better standards for health claims.  If it were up to me, food packages would have no claims on them: none at all.  Foods are not drugs.

cocoa Krispies

And here’s another reason why:

Will Cocoa Krispies  be the next target of those pesky lawyers?

FDA: get to work!

Apr 8 2009

Great news: probiotic ice cream!

Now here’s news we’ve all been waiting for: Brazilian food scientists have invented probiotic ice cream.  Probiotics, as you no doubt have heard, are bacteria like the ones that ferment milk into yogurt.  These are supposed to do great things for your health.  As I discuss in What to Eat, there is some – but not terribly compelling – evidence to back up this claim.

This product apparently looks and tastes like ice cream, but supposedly replaces nasty bacteria in your intestines with friendlier types.    But wait!  I thought freezing killed off most of those friendly bacteria.  Frozen yogurt has less fat than ice cream, but it also has way fewer bacteria than regular yogurt.

If this stuff ever gets onto the market, I’ll bet its makers advertise the number of bacteria they put into the ice cream, but don’t say a word about how few survived freezing and storage.

Functional foods (those designed to have some nutritional benefit beyond the nutrients in the food) are about marketing, not health.   They are supposed to make you feel good while eating lots of ice cream.

I don’t need probiotics to feel good about eating ice cream.  Especially ginger ice cream.  Or peach.

Added comment, April 9: Does freezing kill probiotic bacteria?  Yes it does, although “most” is an exaggeration.  As I discuss is What to Eat, the National Yogurt Association standards for regular yogurt require 100 million live bacteria per gram; its standard for frozen yogurt is 10 million bacteria per gram – a ten-fold decrease.   In bacterial terms, both are small numbers.  In any case, these bacteria may be good for you (and I emphasize the uncertainty), but watch out for the calories!

Jan 24 2008

Dannon sued over Activia claims

Activia “probiotic” (promoting the growth of friendly bacteria) yogurt is a case study of successful marketing, based on its claims about the benefits of its particular live-and-active bacteria. Now its maker is being sued for overhyping the science and duping consumers into paying 30% more for Activia than for other yogurts. For what the company claims, see the Danone website.

Dannon, of course, rejects the charges.

To complicate the picture, Dutch investigators report the disappointing results of a clinical trial of probiotics in treatment of pancreatic cancer; the death rate was higher among study participants taking probiotics.   Somehow, I doubt this had anything to do with the probiotics but it does suggest a need for caution in interpreting studies of benefit as well as risk.