ASA looks at implied health claims for food supplement and doctor testimonials

The ASA has ruled that a number of ads for Nutritional Sciences Ltd’s supplements breached the CAP Code as they contained misleading and unsubstantiated health claims Nutritional Sciences Ltd - ASA | CAP. The ruling examined the situation where there was a click through link to products rather than an immediate association and the use of an alleged testimonial from a doctor, ‘Dr. Paul O’Connell’.

The ads were for the ‘Activ8 Joint Complete’ product, a supplement that Nutritional Sciences Ltd claimed on its website:

  • ‘Relieves soreness, stiffness and discomfort’
  • ‘Prevents inflammation, damaged cartilage, and bone decay’
  • ‘Facilitates joint repair & recover’
  • ‘Improves movement and flexibility’

These claims were often accompanied by testimonials from Dr. Paul O’Connell.

The ASA received two complaints with the following challenges:

  1. The claims that Activ8 Joint Complete could treat or cure human disease breached the Code.
  2. The specific health claims in the ads, which must be authorised on the Great Britain Register of nutrition and health claims, breached the Code.
  3. The claim that Dr. Paul O’Connell was the ‘NHS’s leading joint expert’ was misleading and should be substantiated.

The ASA upheld the first and second issues, stating that it was likely the wording would be understood by consumers as treatment for arthritis or other degenerative joint conditions, or a preventative treatment for the effects of ageing on the joints.  Consequently, the claims were prohibited under the CAP Code.  Crucially, it did not matter that the ads did not attribute the claims to a specific product, rather it was enough for the ASA to determine that the ad was for that supplement as the ads linked through to the website where the supplement was sold.

The ASA upheld the third issue as Nutritional Sciences Ltd did not provide any evidence to substantiate this claim, or that Dr. Paul O’Connell was registered as a medical doctor on the General Medical Council’s Register.  The ASA also noted that had evidence been provided, the issue would still be upheld as the CAP Code states that health claims referring to the recommendation of an individual health professional are not acceptable in marketing communications for food supplements.

The ASA ruled that the ads must not appear again in the forms complained of, and told Nutritional Sciences Ltd that it cannot make claims that its products could treat human disease or refer to the recommendation of an individual health professional in its marketing for such products.  The matter was referred to CAP’s Compliance team.

This ruling demonstrates the importance of compliance with ASA investigations and adherence to the CAP Code in the context of health claims.

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