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Some product claims are too good to be true.

Jul 25th, 2012
Staff Writer
Handfull of Pills || Photo credit: WikiMedia Commons

Increase muscle mass! Reduce belly fat! Feel better than ever! The list is endless. Audacious health and fitness claims flood every medium of advertisement with assertions of product prowess. Open a magazine and the statements often fill an entire page, convincing readers to purchase something new to improve their workout. But how many of these claims are based in fact, and not born of fiction?

Scientists in the Department of Primary Care Health Sciences of the University of Oxford, UK, investigated the claims of the top 100 magazines and the top 10 sports magazines in the US and the UK. The research, published in the British Medical Journal, inspected claims and searched for the primary level of scientific validity: systematic reviews (affirmation from an external source).

Of 104 difference “performance-enhancing” products, only half referred to a study of any kind. The team contacted 42 companies in search of claim-based evidence, but received only 16 responses (Panache and New Balance were alone in sharing product-based research). Nike provided a product video, suggesting it supplied “sufficient” evidence for their performance-enhancing claims.

After thorough investigation, the Oxford researchers explained, “There is a striking lack of evidence to support the vast majority of sports-related products that make claims related to enhanced performance or recovery.”

In the end, over half of the advertisements provided no evidence for their claim. No systematic reviews were found, and all evidence (save three trials) was considered to be at high risk of bias due to lack of randomization and poor research technique. This scarcity of substantiated research worried the scientific team. They concluded, “It is virtually impossible for the public to make informed choice about the benefits and harms of advertised sports products based on the available evidence,” according to the BMJ Open publication.

It would seem the only way for consumers to get their money’s worth in a market without accountability is to exercise skepticism. A dose of reality may be good for buyers and sellers alike, especially when exceptional claims may be fact or fiction.