Kid’s Dietary Supplement Forced To Change Deceptive Ads
A dietary supplement that professed to provoke miraculous speech gains in children has backed off its claims after facing accusations of deceptive marketing practices.
The NourishLife product SpeechNutrients speak sounded too good to be true. In its advertising literature the company asserted that its patented formula could help children suffering from apraxia and autism who had delayed speech, complete with testimony from happy-looking families who said their children starting talking sometimes within hours of taking the product.
There was one hitch. “The problem is that much of what is said in the preceding paragraph about Speak is simply false,” wrote consumer watchdog Truth in Advertising in a letter to the FDA, the FTC and the Illinois Attorney General. “In short, NourishLife uses deceptive advertising tactics to sell a potentially harmful supplement to children with disabilities.”
Among the claims that the company could not back up, according to the letter:
- There is no patented formula for the Speak vitamin and never has been.
- There is no competent and reliable scientific evidence to support a claim that Speak supports normal and healthy speech development and maintenance.
- All but one of the “family” photos associated with the testimonials regarding the effectiveness of Speak are fakes — professional photos that were purchased from iStock.com.
- There is no such thing as “pharmaceutical grade” omega-3.
- The independent Apraxia Research site that parents are referred to is just another marketing tool used by NourishLife to sell Speak.
- And, in addition to this deception, the amount of vitamin E contained in Speak far exceeds the tolerable upper intake level set by the Food and Nutrition Board, and may be hazardous to the health of children.
Faced with the results of the investigation, NourishLife has updated its website and other materials to remove the inaccurate claims.
Snake Oil and the Wild West
Firms that market health products not only have to follow truth-in-advertising laws, they also need FDA approval to make certain types of assertions about the effects of the product on the human body.
“It’s pretty simple,” says Bonnie Patten, an attorney and TINA’s executive director. “If a company is marketing a supplement, they need to be honest and truthful. If they’re going to make a health benefit claim, they need to have adequate scientific peer reviewed study to back up their claims.”
In Huckleberry Finn’s day, medicine men hawking cure-alls were tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail when their quackery was discovered. Nowadays we have to rely on regulatory agencies and the threat of fines and sanctions instead.
“The same deceptive advertising is being used now that’s been being used as long as snake oil supplements and medications have been made,” Patten says. “The supplement industry is like the Wild West.”
People who think they have been lied to by a company in violation of deceptive marketing rules can go directly to the FTC or the state attorney general’s office, the FDA if there is a health claim involved, or to a consumer advocacy group like TINA to help get the ball rolling.
In the event that consumers are actually harmed by a product that is making a false claim, they can also retain a personal injury lawyer and launch their own civil lawsuit to seek recourse and compensation.