Challenging misleading healthcare claims.

Latest ASA adjudications: 9 March 2011

The Advertising Standards Authority published five adjudications on 9 March 2011 that concern advertisers making health claims.


British Institute for Allergy and Environmental Therapy

Result: Upheld on all five points

BIAET had published a leaflet making claims about their 'Allergy Testing and Treatment' and the ASA asked them to substantiate those claims. They supplied some details of a 'trial' conducted by Glasgow Homeopathic Hospital. However, the ASA decided it did not meet their standards for substantiation, saying:

We noted the article on homeopathy provided by BIAET, but we also noted that the article was a general discussion and profile of homeopathy, and did not assess whether homeopathy could treat the symptoms of hay fever.

Because we considered we had not seen suitable evidence to substantiate the claims made by BIAET that their product could treat hay fever, we concluded that the ads were misleading.

Another part of the complaint was that the ad breached the Code because it implied that the treatment was safe merely because it was natural. The advertiser maintained:

They believed that the word natural would be understood by patients to be associated with homeopathy and herbalism. They considered the ad made clear that the product was natural because it did not have side effects and did not use chemical drugs.

The ASA took a different view:

We considered that consumers would understand the claim to imply that there were no side effects from taking the remedy because the remedy was natural, and that it was therefore safe to use. Because we considered the ad implied that the remedy was safe merely because it was natural, we concluded the ad breached the Code.

This is significant because many adverts for alternative health products make the implied or blatant claim that because their product is 'natural', it is inherently safe. This is clearly false.

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Magno-Pulse Ltd

Result: Upheld on all six points

Magno-pulse advertised their knee support in the national press that had 'patented directional plates to reflect the heat back into the knee and to offer soothing support to gently relieve aches and painful areas' and mentioned various medical conditions and cited testimonials form 'satisfied' customers.

The advertiser withdrew the ad and did not supply any evidence to the ASA to substantiate the claims.

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Metabolics Ltd

Result: Upheld on all four points

A leaflet for food supplements featured products called "Bright Eyes", "Colon Cleanse" and "Memory Recall".

Although a complainant challenged one of the claims being made, the ASA added three others. The advertiser agreed to remove the phrase "detoxifies the bowel" from future ads.

For their Memory Recall Formula, the advertiser argues that 'the ad did not make any health claims in relation to this product, or any claims that the product improved memory function'. The ASA disagreed with their interpretation and said that, because the advertiser had not provided evidence to substantiate the claim, it was misleading.

For the third issue, the advertiser said that it had been shown that age-related macular degeneration was in part caused by a deficiency of certain substances. Their product claimed to supply these substances. However, although the advertiser supplied some evidence, the ASA decided that:

Metabolics had not proved that a supplement containing these ingredients would be absorbed and utilised by the body in the same way as the ingredients in their naturally occurring states.

So, just because a condition may be caused by a deficiency of a chemical, supplying that chemical in a supplement does not necessarily mean that the condition will improve. Since the advertiser supplied no evidence to support the assertion that it could, the ASA upheld the complaint on this point.

The final issue was:

the heading "Is your eyesight deteriorating?" for the Bright Eyes product, implied a medicinal claim that the product could be used to prevent or cure deterioration of the eyes, and therefore required marketing authorisation from the MHRA.

The advertiser 'did not believe the heading "Is your eyesight deteriorating?" implied the product could help deterioration of the eyes'. The ASA considered

that most readers would understand from the question posed in the heading "Is your eyesight deteriorating?" that the product being advertised could help people whose eyesight was deteriorating.

Because we considered this was an unauthorised medicinal claim, we considered that the ad had breached the Code.

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Natures Naturals Ltd

Result: Upheld on both points

This was a complaint about an email:

for Immuno-AID and Magnesium Oil Spray natural health products, stated "Immuno-AID™is a natural product formulated to provide the body with the components that modulate the immune system so that it is healthy, strong and in a constant state of readiness to protect us against pathogenic diseases created by viral and bacterial infections should they occur” and “Magnesium Oil Spray helps relieve the symptoms of Insomnia, Restless Leg Syndrom [sic], Night Cramps, Stress and Travel Fatigue, Reduces muscle spasms cramping and relaxes tired bodies”.

The complaint was about the name of the product being misleading and whether the advertiser could substantiate the claims made. Regarding the former of these, the advertiser stated that:

the Intellectual Property Office had approved the Immuno-AID trademark.

This did not convince the ASA:

We noted that the Intellectual Property Office had approved the Immuno-AID trademark, but did not consider the trademark to be evidence for the products efficacy.

For the second issue complained about, the advertiser supplied an article from the British Medical Journal:

British Medical Journal article found magnesium deficiency was present in approximately a quarter of patients with restless leg syndrome, it also stated "This is not the same as saying that everyone who has restless legs will benefit from magnesium".

Overall, the advertiser failed to provide scientific evidence that substantiated the claims they were making, so the complaint was upheld.

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Rodial Ltd

Result: Upheld on both points

The ad was an email offering a weight loss aid that stated:


A complainant challenged the efficacy claims and the ASA challenged whether:

"Tummy Tuck Sticks" misleadingly implied that the product could achieve weight loss from a specific area of the body.

In an attempt to substantiate their claims, the advertiser supplied the ASA with an information sheet about the ingredients and their properties. However, the ASA did not consider this to be the 'robust, scientific evidence, such as clinical trials conducted on people' required to substantiate those claims, so they concluded that the ad was misleading.

The ASA noted that the CAP Code stated that ads should not contain claims that weight or fat can be lost from specific parts of the body and they considered that the name of the product itself was an implied claim to this effect and therefore considered that the ad breached the Code.

There is a problem here because the product name appears to be a registered trade mark:

Because we understood the name "Tummy Tuck Sticks" was a registered trade mark, we told Rodial to include a disclaimer in future ads that made clear that the product had not been proven to aid weight loss from the stomach.

So, we should expect to see this disclaimer on all marketing communications for this product from Rodial from now on.

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