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NBJ Blog

Where's the Balance? SI Continues Attack on Supplements

In the Letters section of its June 8 issue, Sports Illustrated ran reader responses to the May 18 supplement article, “What You don’t Know Might Kill You.” The letter Nutrition Business Journal submitted, which corrected the NBJ data that was erroneously cited in the article, was not printed—nor were any other letters supporting the industry or calling the magazine on its misleading reporting about supplements and DSHEA. (NBJ confirmed that we weren't the only ones to respond to the Sports Illustrated article in defense of the industry and to correct misinformation published in the article). Instead, the magazine published three anti-supplement letters. Needless to say, it’s disappointing to see such blatant bias on the part of a popular mainstream publication.

For what it’s worth, following is the letter NBJ submitted to Sports Illustrated:

In a May 18 Sports Illustrated cover feature titled "What You Don't Know Might Kill You," David Epstein and George Dohrmann incorrectly cite Nutrition Business Journal research to create a picture of a sports supplement industry that appears much larger than it actually is. In reading the article, the average reader would come away with the idea that, according to Nutrition Business Journal, the sports supplement industry has grown to become a $20 billion business—which is simply not true. In 2007, U.S. sales of sports supplement products—the type which this Sports Illustrated article focused on—totaled $2.5 billion, while the entire U.S. sports nutrition and weight-loss market—which includes sports supplements, weight-loss pills, meal-replacement supplements, low-carb foods, nutrition bars, and sports and energy drinks—generated just under $20 billion in sales in 2007, according to Nutrition Business Journal estimates. Yes, sales of sports supplements have been growing, but they still constitute a small piece of the overall sports nutrition and weight-loss market—and this certainly was not made clear in the way Sports Illustrated cited Nutrition Business Journal’s research.

Along with getting this important fact wrong, Sports Illustrated also did its readers a disservice by publishing a story that focuses on only a small minority of products within the U.S. dietary supplement market—products that, in the words of Steve Mister, president and CEO of the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), “are not representative of the mainstream companies that manufacture products that consumers choose to include in their cadre of personal healthcare options.” Furthermore, by blaming the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) for creating what Epstein and Dohrmann call a “Pandora’s Box of false claims, untested products and bogus science,” your magazine demonstrated a lack of understanding of DSHEA and the regulations it put in place for the dietary supplement industry. As Mister noted in the five-page response CRN wrote to your article, “The extreme examples the article describes appear to be a product of DSHEA, when in fact, they more likely result from FDA’s lack of enforcement of that law over the past 16 years.”

At a minimum, Sports Illustrated should run a correction regarding the Nutrition Business Journal data it incorrectly cited in its article, but also deserving is a follow-up piece that, instead of relying on sensational examples that scare readers into believing that the majority of supplements are unsafe, actually paints a true picture of dietary supplement regulation and its enforcement and maybe even helps readers understand how to identify the many safe and effective supplement products that are available to them today.

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