Nutrition Misinformation: How to Identify Fraud and Misleading Claims – 9.350 arrow

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Quick Facts

  • Food fads, fad diets, health fraud, and misdirected health claims are all types of nutrition misinformation.
  • A nutrition expert is known as a registered dietitian (RD) or a licensed dietitian (LD), and has a specialized degree in dietetics, nutrition, public health, or related sciences.
  • Do not rely on manufacturer claims when determining if a product is safe. Instead, seek out unbiased science-based research.
  • Consult a medical professional with questions about dietary supplements including vitamins, minerals, herbs and botanicals.
  • The best way to protect against questionable health products and services is to be an informed consumer. Be aware of the common claims and themes that accompany nutrition misinformation.

With the growing body of knowledge supporting the connection between diet and overall health, many consumers are taking personal health and nutrition decisions into their own hands. Individuals are becoming more reliant on nutrition information from sources such as websites, television, radio, newspapers, advertisements, friends, and family, thereby creating opportunities for nutrition misinformation and health fraud. Health fraud is defined as misrepresentation of health claims, and can range from a self-proclaimed medical expert who has discovered a so-called “miracle cure,” to a food supplement or drug that is promoted with unsubstantiated health claims. Accurate nutrition information is science-based, peer reviewed, and replicable. Nutrition misinformation is not supported by science and may be misleading and incomplete. It can be challenging for consumers to tease out reputable versus fraudulent nutrition
information and claims.

The following information regarding nutrition misinformation and fraud should serve as a guide, allowing the consumer to sift through nutritional claims in order to make the best decision for his or her personal health. Consumers should be aware of these top ten red flags for misleading claims:

  1. Recommendations that promise a quick fix.
  2. Dire warnings of danger from a single product or regimen.
  3. Claims that sound too good to be true.
  4. Simplistic conclusions drawn from a complex study.
  5. Recommendations based on a single study.
  6. Dramatic statements that are refuted by reputable scientific organizations.
  7. Lists of “good” and “bad” foods.
  8. “Spinning” information from another product to match the producer’s claims.
  9. Stating that research is “currently underway,” indicating that there is no current research.
  10. Non-science based testimonials supporting the product, often from celebrities or highly satisfied customers.

Problems within the industry that aid in the promotion of fraudulent nutrition claims include:

  • Limited enforcement of laws and regulations that prevent a producer from labeling and selling a product under the term “dietary supplement.”
  • Individuals identifying themselves as nutritionists who have dubious credentials from non-accredited schools.
  • Research scientists who go public with their findings before their study has been published in a scientific journal or duplicated, resulting in consumer confusion.

Who Are the Nutrition Experts?

A qualified nutrition expert is known as a registered dietitian (RD) or a licensed dietitian (LD), and has specialized degree in dietetics, nutrition, public health, or related sciences from an accredited university. These individuals may also hold advanced degrees such as M.S., M.Ed., Sc.D., M.D. or Ph.D., and must undergo continuing education on a regular basis. On the other hand, the terms “nutritionist” and “diet counselor,” are not regulated and may be used by self-proclaimed experts without proper qualifications.

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