Two manufacturers of cholesterol-lowering margarine were criticised last week by the UK's Advertising Standards Agency (ASA) for making misleading claims about the health benefits of their products. The ASA upheld complaints that Johnson and Johnson, which makes Benecol, had used larger-than-average servings when calculating that the spread could lower cholesterol levels by 14%, and that the figure was not true of all age groups. It also upheld a complaint about claims made by Unilever's Van den Bergh Foods regarding its spread, Flora pro.activ.
McNeil Consumer Nutritionals, which markets Benecol in the UK, had stated in an advertisement that the margarine and other Benecol products contained plant components that could lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol by 14% when consumed in the recommended amounts. The ASA said the advertisements referred to three servings a day but did not make clear that the 12-gram serving sizes for the margarine were considerably larger than a typical serving. It added that the 14% LDL cholesterol reduction could be substantiated only among people ages 50 to 59. For all ages, the average reduction was only 10% to 12%.
In the case of Flora pro.activ, the advertisers said it contained plant sterols that gave it an even greater cholesterol-lowering effect than normal spreads containing polyunsaturated fats. They claimed studies showed that moving to a healthy diet including around 20 grams of Flora pro.activ per day brings average LDL reductions of 10% to 15% within three weeks. The ASA said the advertisement implied that consumers already following a healthy diet and lifestyle could achieve the claimed reduction in LDL cholesterol. It said this was misleading because the studies showed people with a healthy diet and active lifestyles were likely to reduce LDL cholesterol levels by 10% only.
Both companies have agreed not to advertise in the same way again.
Note: Margarines fortified with plant sterols are not available in Canada. They are sold in the United States.
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