Weighty concerns over obesity health claims

The Council for Responsible Nutrition has pledged to fight a joint petition calling on the Food & Drug Administration to treat weight loss claims made for dietary supplements as disease claims. Such a move would mean FDA approval need to be sought for pre-approval of claims made on weight loss products.

The petition has been filed by a group made up of the American Dietetic Association, The Obesity Society, Shaping America's Health and GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare. They argue that weight loss claims made for supplements "purport to prevent or treat an abnormal or unhealthy condition that, while not itself a disease, is a significant risk factor for disease." The premise behind the petition is that Americans are inclined to turn to dietary weight loss supplements to not only lose weight but also to reduce their risk of these chronic health conditions. However, the petitioners say, "there is little, if any, evidence, indicating that dietary supplements marketed for weight loss actually work."

But CRN president and CEO Steve Mister said: "CRN plans to oppose this petition to re-classify weight loss claims as either disease claims or health claims requiring FDA approval. We believe weight loss claims are legitimate and appropriate claims for products in the dietary supplement category, provided these products have substantiation to support the truthfulness of these claims.

"FDA has made it clear that it considers weight loss claims appropriate and permissible under the Dietary Supplement Health & Education Act, meaning that manufacturers should not have to seek the agency's approval before making these claims. Therefore, CRN intends to vigorously defend the industry's rights in this area."

Perhaps no other sector of the supplement industry is as debated and scrutinized as the weight loss sector. In 2007, Federal Trade Commission said the weight loss market crossed the proverbial too good to be true line when the marketers of four weight-control pills (Xenadrine EFX, CortiSlim, TrimSpa and One-A-Day WeightSmart) agreed to pay a total of at least $25 million to settle allegations of deceptive advertising. The FTC alleged that the companies' weight-loss and weight-control claims were not supported by evidence adding that the practice of paid testimony advertising to back up fad science led desperate consumers astray.

Industry members interviewed for this story, who wish to remain anonymous, agree that while some of the claims made by weight loss companies are falsely seductive and take advantage of a vulnerable lot, the notion that all weight loss product health claims must go through a lengthy approval process is not warranted. As equally controversial is the section of the petition that notes there is no need for a federally supported comment period because the petitioners are requesting a provision to existing regulations, not a change in structure function claims. To see the petition in its entirety, click here.

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