Monday, July 20, 2009

EU inquiry pours doubt on benefit of health foods

Not before time

More than 50 food products and supplements have been exposed by a Europe-wide investigation for making unproven claims about their health benefits. Ocean Spray cranberry juice, Lipton black tea and some probiotic supplements are among the items whose claimed health benefits are scientifically unproven, according to an investigation by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA). Fish oil supplements which purport to improve brain growth in babies and children have come under particular scrutiny, with the agency rejecting most of the benefits claimed by manufacturers.

The initial results of the inquiry suggest that consumers could be wasting millions of pounds each year on products they think will improve their diet and lifestyle. Britons annually spend £320m on vitamin pills and supplements alone. Significantly more is spent on foods, such as breakfast cereals, which claim to offer health benefits.

The EFSA has examined the science behind the health claims made by 66 foods or ingredients. A further 4,000 products are to be inspected. Firms whose claims have already been rejected include Ocean Spray, which had suggested that its cranberry juice could protect women against urinary infections. The agency also rejected an application from Unilever which sought to claim that drinking Lipton black tea makes people more alert.

“We have examined the science put forward by the companies to support their products and in many cases found it did not support the claims they were making,” said an EFSA spokesman.

The agency’s rulings have shocked the food and supplements industries, where the “health benefits” conferred by products is often a cornerstone of marketing. “This is a long overdue revolution in the food industry,” said Tim Lang, professor of food policy at City University in London. “Consumers have been bamboozled by unsubstantiated claims about the health benefits of foods for too long.”

The EFSA findings are the result of the European Union’s nutrition and health food regulation of 2006 which requires manufacturers to substantiate any health claims. The agency’s uncompromising approach has persuaded some companies, including NestlĂ© and Unilever, to remove products from the EFSA verification process. One idea is that some companies want a chance to lobby for the rules to be relaxed before submitting amended applications.

Danone, one of the biggest manufacturers of probiotic yoghurts and drinks, is one of the companies to withdraw from the EFSA tests. This year it is on course to sell 480m bottles of Actimel in the UK and 640m pots of Activia which contain microbes that it claims can improve gut health. Such massive sales mean the impact of the EFSA rejecting a health claim could be huge. So far the agency’s scientists have slapped down claims made by similar probiotic products. A Danone spokesman said it would submit new health claims to the EFSA: “These withdrawals in no way put in doubt the soundness of the science behind our applications.”

Although the EFSA rulings have yet to be approved by the European parliament to give them legal weight, manufacturers fear consumers will vote with their feet after a rejection. This is the threat facing omega-3 fish oil producers such as Equazen, whose brands include Eye Q, Mumomega, Cardiozen and Equavision. It submitted several claims to the EFSA, including one suggesting that Mumomega capsules could help the central nervous system development in foetuses and breastfed infants. All the claims were rejected.

On its website Equazen claims: “Everything we do is based on scientific fact.” However, when asked to clarify this last week, a spokesman said: “All Equazen product claims are approved both by our internal regulatory department and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB).” The PAGB is the trade body for makers of food supplements and non-prescription medicines rather than a research organisation.

Shane Starling, editor of, the leading food industry journal, said the rulings meant consumers could have more confidence in health claims. “It’s brought turmoil to the food industry, but it is time these claims were scrutinised,” he said.


Daughters take after their mothers and sons take after their fathers

How surprising! And this is supposed to DISPROVE the influence of genetics??

FAT mothers make fat daughters and fat fathers make fat sons, new research reveals. A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found the weight of some parents had a significant impact on their children's waistlines. Researchers studied the body mass index of 226 trios – mother, father and child – to calculate how gender affected weight.

By age eight, a child's tendency to become overweight like their same sex parent was becoming entrenched. The same sex correlations between parent and child were universally stronger than the correlations between opposite sexes, the report said.

Childhood obesity today seems to be largely confined to those whose parents of the same sex are obese, and the link does not seem to be genetic. Instead, the authors said, the environmental and possibly behavioural, influence of overweight parents was to blame. The mother acts as a role model for her daughter and the father for his son.

Treating adult obesity could therefore be the best way of tackling childhood obesity, the report concluded. "The clearly defined gender assortative pattern which our research has uncovered is an exciting one because it points towards behavioural factors at work in childhood obesity," study director Terry Wilkin said.


Hey, Kids, Playing in the sand at the beach could kill you

In raising your young kids, don't worry about the tons of sex and violence they are exposed to on TV. Those aren't problems. You know what the real problem is? Sand on the beach. Yeah, that's the ticket. Instill a fear of sand in your kid. Oh, and did I mention that $65K in your tax money paid for the study that issues the alarm and says you shouldn't handle food with dirty hands?
Add playing in the sand to the long list of fun things that may be bad for your health. A new study says you risk getting an upset stomach and diarrhea if you dig into the granular stuff to fill toy pails, build sand castles or bury yourself. You're better off walking along the shore or swimming in the surf.

Is the federal government, which paid $63,500 for the research, throwing a major bummer into the beach-going season? . . . The report's authors said they don't mean to put a damper on summer fun. They just think it's important to caution people about the bird droppings, urban runoff, sewage and other contaminants that pollute sand.

"Take care to use a hand sanitizer or wash hands after playing in the sand," said Tim Wade, an epidemiologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who helped write the study. . . .

As part of a larger assessment of water quality at beaches, EPA researchers interviewed more than 27,000 beach-goers in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007. There were four sites on the Great Lakes and one each in Mississippi, Alabama and Rhode Island.

Beach-goers were asked about their contact with sand on the day of their visit. Ten to 12 days later, they were contacted by phone to discuss health problems that surfaced since then.

The EPA and the University of North Carolina analyzed the information, and their results appear in the latest edition of the American Journal of Epidemiology. It's being touted as the most comprehensive look at how specific activities involving beach sand might cause sickness.

Less than 10 percent of people who played with sand came down with diarrhea and/or gastrointestinal illness. But that number is still up to 24 percent higher than for folks who didn't. Researchers said the risk of illness was highest for those who were buried in the sand and that children are more likely than adults to fall sick. . . .

"We are hypothesizing . . . that people are coming into contact with fecal contamination in the sand and then transferring that to their hands and then to their mouth," he said.

Heaney said beach-goers should be careful when handling food. "The beach . . . is not a sterile environment," he said.

So, they're hypothesizing, but they have no actual proof that playing in the sand causes any of these illnesses. But, wow, $65,000 spent to give us some real genius advice, which is essentially, "Wash your hands before eating." Einstein stuff.

SOURCE (See the original for links)

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