What happened? Well into its second generation, the obesity epidemic, rather than abating, is getting worse. In October, Medical News Today released its report on the World Obesity Federation’s 2015 survey, and the news isn’t good. The Federation predicts that in the next 10 years, obesity rates are going to rise by 4%. That might not seem like a big rise, but it translates to millions of people—each of whom could end up putting significant financial strain on the economy.
Additionally, new obesity health risks identified in the Medical News Today report from research published in the science journal, Molecular Psychiatry, which indicate: “Individuals who are overweight or obese at the age of 50 may be at greater risk of earlier onset of Alzheimer’s disease.”
Alzheimer’s affects almost 6 million people in the US, and while more than 95% are age 65 and older, the numbers for earlier onset are increasing.
In the just-released Hartman Group Inc.’s “Health & Wellness 2015” report, the consumer research group disclosed that “the number one health condition America’s consumers are concerned with is the issue of weight management.” According to the research statistics, “more than half of consumers (58%) are either treating (26%) or preventing (32%) ‘being overweight.’”
The “Health & Wellness 2015” research revealed that, overall, “US households manage, on average, 9.6 different health conditions,” with consumers “actively treating 3.4 health conditions and proactively preventing 6.2 health conditions.” With the lion’s share of these conditions related either directly or indirectly to overweight.
According to the Hartman Group’s survey, while 56% of the one third of consumers actively trying to prevent being overweight “turn to exercise as the primary solution,” nearly as many—54%—“use food” and 27% “use beverages.” Food also is “key to preventing many other health- and lifestyle-related conditions,” notes the report, naming diabetes, high cholesterol, heart/cardiovascular concerns, cancer and high blood pressure.
As noted in previous articles, one of the key causes of obesity has been the simultaneous, precipitous decline in activity and upward spike of caloric intake—300-500 calories per day—for Americans since 1970. While “learning to be satisfied with less” would be the best prescription, it just is not going to happen across the demographic. This puts satiety at the forefront of weight management.
Is it working?
Last year’s big news story by the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation celebrating the removal of 6.4 trillion calories from the US marketplace between 2007-2012 cited portion control and healthier snacks as the root of success for this campaign. However, the new World Obesity Federation survey presents signs that the impact could end up being minimal.
The Hartman Group’s “Health & Wellness 2015” report updates and extends the group’s previous work and further identifies the factors and trends “driving demand for high-quality, healthy foods and beverages” and provides “illuminating insights into emerging opportunities for CPG food and beverage manufacturers, food retailers, food service companies and restaurants.”
With billions of dollars in lost workdays annually due to obesity-related health conditions, the further burden of medical costs are about $1,500 annually for every obese person. The financial cost of this epidemic is so extreme (last year, PF reported that an estimated 20-25% of total medical costs are due to obesity-generated health conditions), even single-digit changes equate to thousands of deaths and tens of millions of dollars.
So, where do developers of foods and beverages fit in? Square in the center of the plate, as it happens. Although sedentary lifestyles and sleep deprivation have proven to be key contributors to obesity, weight management is more than the simple “calories in/calories out” paradigm. It involves layers of metabolic differences. That is, a calorie is not always a calorie, when it comes to the body’s efforts to utilize or store it as immediate or future energy.
This certainly is not meant as an insensitive “Why don’t they just eat less?” admonishment for those who are overweight. But, in a culture where, for a growing number of people the calories consumed away from home far outnumber those from homemade meals, prepared foods are the underpinnings of daily nutrition.
Developers certainly have been hard at work for decades, using a growing stockpile of ingredients and techniques to control calories, satiety, metabolic function and flavor. However, each year the makers and manufacturers of foods and beverages related to weight management and the complications of obesity (such as diabetes and blood sugar/insulin balance) fine-tune the products they create based on the latest research.
Worst. Side effect. EVER.
By every measure, type 2 diabetes is the worst outcome of overweight/obesity. While not all diabetes is caused by obesity, and not all overweight persons have blood sugar management problems, the statistical connection between the condition of being overweight and the development of the disease is about as close to inextricable as science allows.
The rate of diabetes has increased from just under 10% in 1994 to about 13-14% today, across all age, racial and ethnic groups; in both genders; and by all education and income levels. This represents an increase of 26% in less than 20 years time and is quite alarming, given the potentially tragic and life-threatening consequences—not to mention the additional cost—of controlling and managing diabetes.
Moreover, while the “chicken or the egg” connection between insulin resistance and obesity is not definitive, the majority of studies have demonstrated that losing weight benefits blood sugar balance.
With diabetes being a disease based on poor metabolism of sugar—the primary fuel for brain and body—carbohydrates can play a strong role in mitigating both overweight/obesity and diabetes.
“Weight control is not a simple equation,” says Rhonda Witwer, ingredient industry consultant and chemist. “It is more than balancing caloric intake with caloric expenditure from physical exertion and metabolism with excess calories stored as fat. Weight, in fact, is the tip of an iceberg called metabolism.”
Witwer points out, “The weight we carry and the fat that we store” are more effectively considered as a “symptom of metabolic balance or imbalance.” Because the system works as a whole, she explains, “It is difficult to isolate one aspect like weight without significantly impacting other aspects of metabolism.” However, notes Witwer, “It is now becoming possible to address this underlying metabolic imbalance as the next-generation strategy for new food development for weight control.”
The underlying relationships between inflammation, excess insulin/blood sugar and weight are being scrutinized in a new light, according to Witwer. Scientists are investigating the role in these conditions played by the microbiome—the microorganism colony throughout the body, especially in digestive tract, and the role they play in the food people eat.
In 2008, Jeffrey Gordon, PhD, and colleagues researching at Washington University discovered that the microbiota of obese animals could cause obesity in lean animals. The implication, points out Witwer, is that “maintaining and/or restoring a health-promoting microbiota in the gut could be part of the solution to obesity and weight control, now that it is recognized that diet is the major force shaping the composition of the gut microbiota. The food that we eat not only feeds us, it also feeds an entire population of microbiota living in our intestines.”
The bacteria of the microbiome have been discovered to perform a panoply of beneficial functions. They produce vitamins and help break down foods, so their nutrients can be absorbed. “The microbiota modulate the biological systems that regulate the availability of nutrients, energy storage, fat mass development, insulin sensitivity and inflammation,” says Witwer.
Obesity secondary to a high-fat diet is suspected of being associated with imbalances in gut microbiota. “This leads to increased gut permeability, initiating the development of low-grade inflammation and insulin resistance,” explains Witwer. “But numerous studies have shown that fermentable and prebiotic fibers are particularly important, because they directly shift the microbiota toward health-promoting bacteria, reduced gut permeability, reduced inflammation and reduced insulin resistance.”
Witwer cites a recent, hospital-based intervention study demonstrating this relationship. In the study, morbidly obese children were fed a diet based on whole grains and traditional Chinese medicinal foods known to have high levels of dietary fiber and prebiotics, including inulin and fructo-oligosaccharides.
The subjects’ fiber intake increased from less than 10g/day to about 50g. The intervention was designed to shift metabolism in the gut from protein- and fat-based fermentation to carbohydrate-based fermentation, providing sufficient quantity of fermentable carbohydrates to ensure such fermentation through the entire intestinal tract.
After 30 days, the children had improvements in almost all of the relevant biomarkers for metabolic deterioration. They lost up to 9.5% of their initial bodyweight; inflammation was significantly reduced; and blood sugar control was significantly improved. In addition, significant reductions were seen in numerous metabolites linked to negative health outcomes post-intervention.
It also is significant that the pre-intervention gut microbiota of the subjects in the child study had a higher diversity of toxin-producing and potentially pathogenic bacteria, while the post-intervention gut microbiota were dominated by beneficial Bifidobacterium spp.
“This dietary intervention was successful in shifting fat and sugar metabolism, resulting in healthy weight loss,” says Witwer.
As a proof of principle that the microbiota were responsible for the metabolic improvements, the microbiota from one of the children was transplanted into mice, both pre-intervention and post-intervention. Similar to Gordon’s experiment, the pre-intervention microbiota induced greater gut inflammation and fat accumulation than the post-intervention gut microbiota from the same individual.
Adds Witwer, “This experiment builds upon an existing body of evidence that lower quantities of fermentable and prebiotic carbohydrates, including inulin and fructo-oliggosaccharides, in our diet can help to improve metabolism and, thus, can assist in weight control.”
Similar studies have yielded similar results, adding to the existing body of evidence that inulin and oliggofructose increase satiety, can reduce food intake and assist with weight loss. For example, a new 2015 Brazilian study found that inulin added to frozen meals increased satiety and reduced food consumption, when compared to the same meal without inulin. In addition, a 2009 Canadian study demonstrated that 21g of oliggofructose daily led to weight loss in overweight adults.
It is believed that the increased Bifidobacteria from inulin and oligofructose consumption provide a second level of benefit. Studies show that raising the concentration of Bifidobacteria in the GI tract is inversely correlated with body weight, fat mass, insulin resistance and low-grade inflammation, according to Witwer.
“While it is generally recognized that dietary fiber is crucial for digestive health,” she says, “it is now clear that fermentable and prebiotic fibers also contribute to weight control through microbial fermentation.”
Recently, another oliggosaccharide has drawn attention for its ability to counter metabolic syndrome and help reduce and manage weight. Studies of a 5.5g daily dose of trans-galacto-oligosaccharide (GOS) mixture showed it to be a prebiotic used by microbes in the GI tract able to alter the microbiome and counter metabolic syndrome.
In a double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, crossover study led by Jelena Vulevic, PhD, et al., at the School of Food Biosciences, University of Reading, UK, “GOS positively affected the gut microbiota by increasing the number of positive bifidobacteria, whilst reducing more negative bacteria,” according to the study’s authors.
The study’s authors further noted that the positive effects—reduction of insulin, total cholesterol, triglycerides and TC/HDL ratio—kicked in as fast as six weeks, with a “positive effect on immune responses by increasing fecal sIgA (a marker of mucosal immunity), and decreasing calprotectin and CRP (markers of inflammation).”
While certain probiotic bacteria strains have proven helpful for efficient digestion, metabolism and satiety by feeding on these prebiotic compounds, probiotics have other abilities worth noting when it comes to managing the effects of overweight/obesity. Several recent studies have shown that some probiotics have the capacity to break down cholesterol, thus helping to clear it from the blood stream.
Resistant starches for more than a decade have been known as weight management ingredients. While they generally are available in pure form from high-amylose corn and from wheat, resistant starch also is high in barley, sorghum, potatoes and slightly green bananas.
Resistant starch is classified as a form of dietary fiber, because it acts as fiber once it hits the digestive tract. Like fiber, it is digested more slowly than a true starch, allowing for a slower release of glucose into the blood. Resistant starch also is fermented in the colon, resulting in a dual-action satiety through chemical stimulation of satiety that complements the typical feeling of fullness from a slow-digesting fiber.
As fermentable, fiber-like carbohydrates, resistant starches are excellent prebiotics, plus they can be used in amounts of up to 25g/day per serving in formulations without undesirable side effects. This allows processors of weight management formulations to take better advantage of the benefits high fiber content can bring to a product. For example, a baked product with 25% of its flour replaced with resistant starch could allow for nearly a full serving of fiber in a single meal replacement item.
An advantage to some of the oligosaccharides is that they have some sweetness, yet account for fewer calories/gram than sugar. But to really reduce calories from sugar in a product, many manufacturers are relying on natural, non-nutritive sweeteners that bring zero calories to the party.
Stevia still is growing strong, benefiting from new technology in combining the powerful sweetener with other compounds, such as sugar alcohols and nutritive sweeteners. And, although it has had a somewhat slower start, monkfruit (lo han guo) also is gaining ground in low-calorie products targeting consumers who want to keep their sweet tooth satisfied without packing on pounds.
What many of the plant-derived non-nutritive sweeteners have in common is the challenge of aftertaste. Stevia, even at high levels of purity (steviol glycoside levels at 95-97%), tends to deliver a lingering aftertaste (often described as licorice-like) in certain formulations, especially beverages.
However, a new ingredient derived from the mycelium of certain mushrooms has proven to be an excellent masker of off or bitter flavors. It has been applied to stevia with glycoside levels as low as 60%, yet it effectively neutralizes the aftertaste.
The medicinal value of fungi have been known through traditional medicine for centuries, but support for the anecdotal evidence is increasingly backed by controlled scientific research.
A key area where medicinal mushrooms is impacting weight management is with blood sugar control. A number of compounds extracted from both fungi and yeast have shown a capacity for mitigating hyperglycemia in persons with diabetes.
Two other compounds derived from mushrooms show promise for weight management and the debilitating side effects of obesity: vitamin D and beta-glucans. Low levels of vitamin D are increasingly common in prediabetics, diabetics and overweight/obese persons.
It also is known that vitamin D is involved in carbohydrate metabolism. Mushrooms are the only practical, non-animal-product-derived source of the hormone-like vitamin.
Mushrooms exposed to UV light can generate enough vitamin D to provide a full minimum daily amount in a single 100g serving.
Beta-glucans, polysaccharides found in mushrooms and yeast, as well as oats and barley, have been noted for their ability to regulate fat metabolism and boost satiety. They also show a capacity to control insulin levels. With the added “incentive” of being low in calories and having a high umami factor, mushrooms can readily function as an all-around weight management ingredient in savory formulations.
While carbohydrate ingredients figure large in keeping consumers from getting large, proteins and functional fats, too, are macroingredients that have been playing primary roles in weight management.
Dairy proteins, such as whey and casein, continue to gain wider use as versatile ingredients for health formulations targeting weight. So, too, have plant proteins. In fact, the variety of protein ingredients from plants has increased multifold in just a few years.
Technologies that have helped modulate the flavor and texture of pea and soy proteins, coupled with the increasing costs and environmental impact of animal proteins, is evident in the sharp rise in foods and beverages featuring them.
So is the neutral-flavored rice protein. More efficient methods of extracting protein from rice have made it a cost-effective, as well as hypoallergenic, substitute for other proteins.
Protein not only helps satiety by providing slow-digesting energy; dietary protein also helps regulate the hunger hormones. For example, pea protein has demonstrated an ability to reduce the so-called “hunger hormone” ghrelin, as well as regulate other digestive system peptides, such as increasing pancreatic peptide YY (PYY).
PYY slows down motility and helps turn off the hunger signal. Overweight/obese persons have been shown to secrete much less of this compound.
Dietary fat also is a primary source of satiety. In spite of a flood of studies in the past decade or so correcting previously misguided views of dietary fat (see sidebar “Low in Fat? Out of Date!”), consumers still look out for the amount of fat in a product.
“Current dietary guidelines encourage limiting saturated fat intake,” noted Benoît Lamarche, PhD, of Laval University, in a recent report. “Yet, new research suggests that the consumption of saturated fat may not be associated with coronary heart disease.
In fact, recent research shows that the saturated fat in milk products have actually been associated with a lower risk of heart disease. The time has come to re-assess current dietary recommendations related to saturated fat.”
Remarking on dairy fat, obesity and cardiometabolic health, Mario Kratz, PhD, of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, along with Stephan Guyenet, PhD, of the University of Washington, pointed out: “Systematic literature review of existing studies refutes the notion that dairy fat or high-fat dairy foods contribute to obesity or cardiometabolic risk and, in fact, suggests that high-fat dairy consumption, within typical dietary patterns, is inversely associated with obesity risk.”
Certain fatty acids, such as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), have been strongly related to weight management. And omega 3 fatty acids have been strongly associated with benefits related to protection and mitigation of diseases related to obesity, including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
The number of ingredient categories and individual ingredients processors can use as ammunition in the war on the widening waistline continues to increase.
The goal for product developers is to apply them in a holistic manner to create new, flavorful foods and beverages designed to serve consumers’ taste and satisfaction desires first and foremost. This will be the key to successful weight management formulations moving forward.
Obesity: Common, Serious and Costly
About 35% of US adults—some 80 million people—are classified as obese, defined as having a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30.0 or higher.
- Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, kidney disease and certain types of cancer—some of the leading causes of preventable death.
- The estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the US is nearly $200 billion.
- Medical costs for people who are obese are around $1,500 higher per year than for those of healthy weight.
Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov) Journal of the American Medical Assn. and Journal of Health Economics
Prepared Foods’ 2015 Ingredients for Weight Management Survey
BNP Media Inc.’s Market Research Division, in conjunction with Prepared Foods magazine, conducted its annual “R&D Trends: Weight-Management” study, providing detailed information on weight-control ingredients and products. Key objectives were to identify common weight-control products being developed and marketed; the importance of health-related ingredients to businesses; and the health-related ingredients most commonly used in, or attracting interest for, developing weight management foods and beverages.
Following is a selection of key points processors had to share with us. The full survey may be viewed at www.PreparedFoods.com.
• Two thirds (65%) of respondents noted they are currently, or planning to, research/develop/ market “health-targeting foods.” Supplement plans were between 4-10%, with the general “health-targeting” supplements at 10%.
• Those planning to develop or market weight-loss food products this year were nearly half the number as in 2014 (10 vs. 18%).
• Those planning to develop or market weight management food products this year numbered about a third fewer than in 2014 (46 vs. 32%).
• Satiety foods and beverages, too, were down to half the level of 2014 at 21 vs. 38% for foods; 9 vs. 18% for beverages.
• When it comes to the products chosen as vehicles for weight-targeting formulations—“Specific Weight-Control Products”—bars and meal replacers rose to the top choices for both weight-management and weight-loss, at 36% (vs. 21% last year) and 44%, respectively.
• Sweet snacks for weight management seem to have fallen from favor, compared to last year, dropping from the plans of 38% of respondents then to 31% now. For weight loss, sweet snacks were at a mere 22%.
• This was complemented by a slight rise in savory snack goals from 25 to 28%, but a big jump in plans for savory snacks for satiety—50% compared to last year’s 38%.
• Taste/flavor still emerges as the most important issue when developing weight-control products. Other important issues include consumer acceptance/understanding, as well as the control/reduction of certain nutrients.
• Health-related ingredient types used the most by processors included: “protein or protein-derived” ingredients at 91 vs. 87% in 2014; “carbohydrate or carbohydrate-derived” ingredients at 87 vs. last year’s 90%. “Botanical or botanical-derived” ingredients remained nearly the same, at 88 vs. last year’s 87%, as did “lipid/lipid-derived” ingredients (65 vs. 62% for 2014) and “vitamins and minerals” (69% both years). Those responding with “other ingredients” this year numbered 78%, significantly higher than last year’s 69%.
• Almost three quarters of respondents (71%) who work with “carbohydrate/carbohydrate-derived” ingredients use fiber in developing health-related foods. Yet 13% indicated they are using lignins—more than double 2014’s figure of 6%. Meanwhile, use of resistant starch fell sharply to 19% from 2014’s 40%, with oligosaccharide use falling slightly, from 23 to 19%.
• Use of natural caloric sweeteners was up sharply at 60% over last year’s 49%, and polysaccharides/gums were lower, at 37% compared to 51% in 2014. Whole grains/heritage grains/seeds stayed virtually the same, at 61% (vs. 60% last year).
• Among those processors who work with “protein/protein-derived” ingredients, dairy proteins are most popularly used by nearly two thirds (65%) of respondents, although last year, the number was 71%. This was followed by animal proteins (including eggs) at 56% (vs. 50% last year) and non-soy plant (56%) replacing soy proteins for the second spot last year at 56%. Soy proteins interested 47% of respondents compared to 56% last year; a sharp drop apparently taken up by non-soy plant proteins.
• DHA and other omega fatty acids are used by 55% of respondents who indicate they’re working with “lipid/lipid-derived” ingredients for health-related products. Alpha-linoleic acid (ALA) was accounted for by only 32% this year compared to 75% a year ago. This might reflect strong marketing for ALA in 2013.
• Use of CoQ-10 fell from 38 to 24%, similar to the loss felt by medium-chain triglycerides (MCT): 24%, which is down from 33%.
•The picture for “botanical and botanically derived” ingredients did not change order over last year. Nor did the numbers vary much. Spices/spice extracts still occupy the top spot with 68% (over 65%); natural sweeteners at 50% (56%); green tea, tea extracts 49% (50%); flax, chia 48% (47%); ginger 44% (41%); stimulants 30% (32%); and ginseng (29 vs. 24% in 2014). Garcinia and Hoodia gordonii were the least commonly used weight-control ingredients.
• Vitamin and mineral usages reported in 2015 include: vitamin D at 80%, calcium at 67%, vitamins B1-6, B12 (61%); newcomer choline is used by more than a fifth of respondents at 21%, and chromium racks up 20%.
• Among those using any other ingredients, antioxidants again topped the list at 69%, and probiotics hit 50%. Microalgae, seaweed, spirulina, fucoxanthine, etc. are used by about a third, while sugar alcohols fell from second place at 63% to just over a third at 35%.
Study details: The target audience was subscribers to Prepared Foods who work for a food/ beverage manufacturer or supplier, or in foodservice, and whose company currently or eventually plans to develop/market weight management, weight-loss and/or satiety-related foods, beverages or dietary supplements. Selection was via systematic random sample from the domestic circulation (on an Nth name basis), and the method was through the Web. There was an incentive prize of five American Express gift cards (one valued at $500 and four at $25). These were awarded to 10 randomly selected participants. All closed-ended numerical data is tabulated using SPSS (a statistical software package), while open-ended questions are either summarized, coded or included as written by respondents, as appropriate. Sample sizes varied for each question due to skip logic, data cleaning or missing responses, and some totals did not equal 100%, due to rounding.
The Role of Blood Sugar and Insulin in Weight Control
Rhonda Witwer, Contributing Editor
Individuals are considered prediabetic if blood glucose levels are higher than normal, but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes. Often, insulin resistance precedes and is a major cause of prediabetes–the body’s muscle and tissues become less sensitive (resistant) to the glucose transporting effects of insulin, causing insulin levels to rise in order to maintain blood glucose control.
Insulin resistance—also known as metabolic syndrome—includes abdominal obesity, increased or high blood pressure, and raised levels of serum triglycerides accompanying low levels of HDL cholesterol. This is in addition to the high fasting blood glucose levels. Some health experts believe as many as a third of US adults have metabolic syndrome.
This is significant for weight control, because higher levels of insulin also signal the body to store fat and prevent fat from being burned as energy. As insulin resistance worsens, weight gain typically appears, followed by prediabetes. The cycle, from a medical perspective, appears to be: Insulin resistance and higher insulin levels è weight gain è more insulin resistance and even higher insulin levels è higher blood glucose levels and prediabetes è type 2 diabetes è disease. Today, insulin resistance is enormous metabolic problem for a large percentage of Americans.
Low in Fat? Out of Date!
The following excerpt is from a Palm International Nutra-Cosmeceutical Conference presentation by Roger Clemens, DrPh.
An epidemiological link between dietary fats, serum cholesterol and heart disease was announced back in the 1960s. By 1984, the National Institutes of Health was advising Americans to reduce their total dietary fat intake to 30%, and their saturated fat intake to less than 10% of their total calories. More than 30 years later, the USDA’s Scientific Report of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee noted, “Available evidence shows no appreciable relationship between consumption of dietary cholesterol and serum cholesterol.”
Many people still haven’t gotten the word—or do not yet believe the committee’s recommendation—that cholesterol is not a nutrient of concern for over-consumption. “The most recent evidence indicates you can consume a reasonable level of saturated fats, and it may not negatively impact your cholesterol levels,” stressed Clemens, adjunct professor of pharmacology and pharmaceutical sciences within the USC School of Pharmacy, International Center for Regulatory Science and member of the USDA 2010 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee.
According to Clemens, much of the current evidence relies on meta-analyses and systematic reviews of the clinical research, which can take years to develop. “That’s the evidence that is now emerging related to the fats in our diets. And it’s changing our thinking about saturated fats, serum cholesterol and heart health,” he announced. “Replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates reduces total and LDL-C cholesterol,” he cautioned, adding that it also can significantly increase triglycerides and reduce HDL cholesterol.
“Further, a meta-analysis published last year in the Annals of Internal Medicine concluded that current evidence does not clearly support cardiovascular guidelines that encourage high consumption of polyunsaturated fatty acids and low consumption of total saturated fats,” Clemens declared, pointing out that low-fat diets have not been shown to effectively lead to weight loss: “The ‘Women’s Health Initiative’ followed more than 20,000 women on low-fat diets for an average of seven years. They weighed only one pound less than the controls, and had no improvements in heart health.”
Other examples of misguided notions of dietary fats were cited by Clemens. “As recently as 2010, it has been acknowledged that the stearic acid found in palm fruit oil is not known to raise LDL cholesterol. In fact, evidence suggests stearic acid should not even be categorized with known cholesterol-raising fats.”
While diet is linked to health, there is a reason why there’s so much confusion about what to eat. Clemens concluded that, “Variations in…genetics, lifestyle and life stage can all influence how [the] body responds to [a particular] diet.”
The Inflammation-Obesity Connection
Lu Ann Williams, Innova Market Insights
There are numerous studies emerging that link obesity, in particular, with cellular inflammation. Inflammation has become a “buzzword” and consequently, is being used in a general fashion for claims related to a wide range of ingredients, according to global new product analysis by Innova Market Insights. New global product launches using the word “inflammation” surged in 2013, increasing by 50% over 2012, and have since stabilized. Excluding sports products, where inflammation typically relates more to muscle exertion and fatigue, the leading subcategories for inflammation claims in 2014 were: juice and juice drinks with 12% of product launch activity, followed by tea (9%) and iced tea (5%). Ingredients associated with reducing inflammation include: flaxseed, tannins, ginger, chia, apple cider vinegar, aloe vera and wheat grass.
Weight-loss Claims: Balancing the scales
Justin Prochnow, Contributing Editor
Products marketed for weight loss and weight management continue to be some of the most sought-after products from consumers. For that reason, such products also tend to be some of the most scrutinized by federal and state regulators, state and local prosecutors, and class-action plaintiff lawyers. So how does a company marketing weight-loss products, or the consumers buying those products, know what is fair game and what claims cross over the line? The following are some key points to keep in mind when “weighing” options.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the federal regulatory agency tasked with regulating advertising claims, reviews weight-loss claims with a healthy dose of skepticism. In January 2014, the FTC announced it was initiating action on several fronts to regulate false and/or misleading advertising claims in the weight-loss and weight management arena. In addition to launching “Operation Failed Resolution” against several companies allegedly making false or misleading claims, the FTC circulated to media outlets its guide, “Gut Check: A Reference Guidance for Media on Spotting False Weight-Loss Claims.” In it, the FTC identified seven product claims that should cause media outlets to think twice before running them:
- The product causes weight loss of two pounds or more per week for a month or more, without dieting or exercise.
- The product causes substantial weight loss, no matter what or how much the consumer eats.
- The product causes permanent weight loss, even after the consumer stops using the product.
- The product blocks the absorption of fat or calories to enable consumers to lose substantial weight.
- The product safely enables consumers to lose more than three pounds per week for more than four weeks.
- The product causes substantial weight loss for all users.
- The product causes substantial weight loss by wearing a product on the body or rubbing it into the skin.
While the last one is not of immediate concern to the food processing industry, product manufacturers should also keep these rules in mind when marketing their wares.
Previously, the FTC identified other claims that, at first glance, seem unrealistic, such as claims that a product can help a person lose weight while they sleep. The FTC believes there is no “miracle” pill or “magic fairy dust” for losing weight, and no weight loss can be sustained without a healthy diet and exercise program. If a product is accompanied by such claims, the FTC believes such claims are unlikely to prove true.
Fundamental to the marketing of food, beverage and supplement products, and the regulation of said products by the FDA, is the principal that non-drug products may not be intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease. Claims that suggest a product will “reduce the risk of heart disease” or treat symptoms of diseases or dysfunctions, such as high cholesterol or blood pressure, are not permitted for non-drug products.
Claims promoting products for persons who are overweight are not deemed “disease” claims, but obesity is a disease and, therefore, off limits for claims.
Endorsements and testimonials are some of the most frequently used vehicles for promoting weight-loss and weight management products. The FTC has issued guidance in the form of the “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” that, while not laws, provide a good indication of how the FTC is likely to regulate endorsements and testimonials used in advertising. Fundamental to the FTC’s regulation is the principal that endorsements and testimonials are presumed to reflect what a typical consumer can expect to achieve when consuming a product. If the experiences described are not representative, the expected results must be clearly disclosed. In the weight-loss category, this means that, if a statement such as “I lost 30 lbs. in 30 days” is not indicative of what a typical person can expect, such a testimonial must be accompanied by a disclaimer of what a typical person can expect, or details of the specific circumstances in which the person lost the weight. Further, there must be scientific evidence to support claims—the standard is competent and reliable scientific evidence; expert opinions aren’t enough. There also must be proof behind the claims.
The final weigh-in? The demand from consumers for a great weight-loss solution continues to be at an all-time high. As time becomes an increasing priority, consumers look for the quick fix without having to put in the work. The reality is, there are few quick fixes, and any significant or long-term weight loss must be achieved in conjunction with dieting and exercise. Products that claim otherwise are unlikely to meet their promises and, thus, more likely to find themselves on the radar of regulators, prosecutors and litigators. For consumers and marketers alike, weighing the feasibility of claims is often the first step in the weight-loss weight management journey.
Justin J. Prochnow is an attorney and shareholder in the Denver office of the international law firm of Greenberg Traurig LLP. His practice concentrates on legal issues affecting the food and beverage, dietary supplement and cosmetic industries. He can be reached at 303-572-6562 or firstname.lastname@example.org, and he can be followed on Twitter at @LawguyJP. He also wishes to remind readers that this content is issued for informational purposes only and is not intended to be construed or used as general legal advice. The opinions expressed are those of the author exclusively.