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Companies are coming clean about claims their products promote healthy lifestyles

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Things are about to change in the Land of Oz, as the popular TV doctor has admitted that many of the products he promotes on his show 'don't have the scientific muster to pass as fact.'

OLIVIER DOULIERY / ABACA PRESS / MCT Enlarge Image

Things are about to change in the Land of Oz, as the popular TV doctor has admitted that many of the products he promotes on his show 'don't have the scientific muster to pass as fact.'

Last week, Dr. Mehmet Oz faced tough questions from American lawmakers during a hearing on deceptive advertising and weight-loss scams.

The celebrity host of TV's popular The Dr. Oz Show -- and Harvard-educated heart surgeon -- admitted during questioning that many of the products he promotes on his show "don't have the scientific muster to pass as fact" even if he "believes in" and uses them.

While Oz's show focuses on healthy eating and exercise basics, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, who chairs a consumer protection committee, accused Oz of playing a role in deceptive advertising.

"When you feature a product on your show, it creates what has become known as the 'Dr. Oz effect' -- dramatically boosting sales and driving scam artists to pop up overnight using false and deceptive ads to sell questionable products," McCaskill said. "...I am concerned that you are melding medical advice, news and entertainment in a way that harms consumers," she said.

Even without turning the channel to Dr. Oz, we're bombarded with messages about the next miracle product promising to make you thin and healthy.

The U.S. government is taking issue with such claims.

Here are some of the latest crackdowns on deceptive advertising:

Activia (Danone)

The marketing: Canadians probably best know Activia for its commercials featuring actress Jamie Lee Curtis and another one with a dancing stomach -- both implying Danone's proprietary strain of probiotic bacteria can aid digestion.

The reality: Probiotics do promote good health, according to numerous studies that have found the gut benefits from the so-called good bacteria in yogurt. There is also some evidence probiotics can boost immune response. However, just about every yogurt contains probiotics (live or active bacterial cultures). So does any fermented food -- including kefir and kimchee.

The consequences: The American arm of Danone settled a class-action lawsuit in 2009. That included paying more than $21 million for exaggerating the science behind the claims that some of their yogurts could aid digestion and prevent colds. Shortly after, a Montreal woman won a class-action lawsuit over the same advertising issues. In 2012, the European Food Safety Authority effectively banned the use of the term probiotics on food labels in Europe.

 

Kashi (Kellogg)

The marketing: Kashi commercials tout the "all natural" goodness of Kashi products, a division of Kellogg that produces granola bars and cereal. The most memorable spot features a Kashi product developer in the fields of an exotic land where elephants roam. There, she sniffs vanilla beans, examines nutmeg and works with the locals to scrape cinnamon bark off trees. Her job, she says, is to "take the best natural flavours and put them together in tasty ways."

The reality: Kashi products contain a variety of synthetic additives, including such things as calcium pantothenate and hexane-processed soy ingredients. (Also, it should be mentioned that adding real vanilla, nutmeg and cinnamon flavouring to products doesn't make them healthy. They still contain excess sugar and refined carbohydrates that fuel disease.)

The consequences: Just last month, Kellogg announced it would no longer use the terms "all natural" and "nothing artificial" on its Kashi products. The move stems from a class-action settlement in which the company will pay out $5 million for allegedly misleading people with its claims on some of its Kashi-labelled products.

 

Shape-Ups (Skechers)

The marketing: Reality-television star Kim Kardashian endorsed these unconventional fitness shoes with unstable soles designed to mimic a balance ball. The company went so far as to promise their brand of toning shoes would help wearers lose weight as well as strengthen their buttocks, legs and abdominal muscles. The implied result of walking around in Shape-Ups? Wearers would morph into the voluptuous, yet firm, Kardashian.

The reality: Losing weight while firming muscles only happens with a lifestyle of exercise and healthy eating, not by wearing a pair of unstable shoes with rocker soles. They can even cause problems. (Some toning shoes encourage lateral rather than a back-and-forth motion, which can lead to ankle swelling and sprains, say podiatrists).

The consequences: In 2013, a federal U.S. judge ordered the company to pay $40 million to people who bought its toning shoes. A description of Shape-Ups on the Skechers website notes that "decreases in weight or body fat and increases in muscle strength or toning have not been clinically shown."

 

Nutella (Ferraro)

The marketing: Television ads depicted Nutella -- a sweet chocolate spread -- as part of a healthy breakfast for kids that contains real milk and hazelnuts in every jar.

The reality: Giving Nutella to your kids for breakfast is like giving them a melted chocolate bar. Two tablespoons of Nutella contains about 200 calories, 21 grams of sugar and 3.5 grams of saturated fat. A Snickers bar contains 250 calories, 27 grams of sugar and 4.5 grams of saturated fat.

The consequences: In 2012, Ferraro settled two class-action lawsuits on deceptive advertising with a $3-million payout. The company has promised to change its misleading advertising and packaging.

 

Have an interesting story you'd like Shamona to write about? Contact her at shamona.harnett@freepress.mb.ca.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 23, 2014 D1

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