Special K Nutritious? Not So Fast, Says Regulator

Once again, health claims for a well-known food brand are under fire. This time it’s Special K, a cereal brand that has long been sold with nutrition and health claims. The UK Advertising Standards Authority banned TV and web advertsing that included unsubstantiated health claims.

The claims  were pretty unremarkable. Special K was described as “nutritious” and “full of goodness.” But UK advertising standards require such claims to be backed up with facts in the advertising. The Authority explained:

We therefore considered the specific health claim did not appear with or immediately following the general health claim “full of goodness. As such, we considered it did not accompany the general health claim and in that regard, the ad breached the code.

If you think this is just an isolated exercise in regulatory nit picking, think again.

Consider the case of POM Wonderful pomegranate juices and supplements. After the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) ruled in 2012 against health claims the company was making for its products. POM Wonderful appealed all the way the the U.S. Supreme Court and lost. The FTC describes this victory as “part of its ongoing efforts to uncover over-hyped health claims in food advertising.”

Unsubstantiated puffery about food health benefits is on shaky ground. We hope it fades away.

“Health claims are about marketing; they are not about health.” — Marion Nestle

Click here for more about Special K advertising and here for more about lessons for the food industry.

Breakfast with Special K, photograph © Ben Seidelman / flickr

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July 23, 2016