Friday, 21 September 2012

Consumer awareness: The dangers of false advertising claims

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: “Zero cholesterol”, “Keeps your heart healthy”, “No
hair breakage and split ends”, “Get rid of dull, dry skin”, “Fights
germs”, “Kills viruses and bacteria in water”, “Get slimmer and lose
fat”, “Fights common cold”, “Sharper brains and stronger bones”,
“Immediate relief from arthritis and joint pains”, “Fair, glowing
skin”, “No bad breath and fights 99 per cent plaque”, “Milk does not
give your child the energy he needs” “Healthy organic, natural food”,
“Tar free cigarettes”, and “Something light to eat”.

The list of advertising claims, many of them false or unverified, is
endless. So are the health problems these deceptive or misleading
advertisements cause to the common man, apart from the big hole they
make in one’s pocket. The Advertising Standards Council of India
(ASCI), the apex advertising regulatory body in the country, received
144 complaints against false advertising claims including by several
multinational companies during the last financial year. Of these, it
upheld 82 complaints following which the companies had either
withdrawn or modified their claims.

“Attractive claims influence people particularly children and affects
the temperament of their behaviour. False claims on health benefits
cause more harm to people. They may lead to malnutrition and severe
health complications. Claims like zero cholesterol make people eat
more and this causes excess fat, which is converted to cholesterol.
There is no truth is claims of losing or gaining weight within weeks
or making the skin fairer in a few days,” warns senior physician Dr N
Papa Rao of Apollo Hospitals.

Nutritionists and health experts point out that there is no shortcut
to health. Those who want to keep themselves fit should include a
variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet, besides milk.
There is no magic pill or health formula, which fights obesity or
increases weight. Oils contain fat and they are essential like
carbohydrates and proteins, but to claim that particular oil keeps the
heart functioning well is a misleading claim.

“Heart problems are not caused by excessive use of oils alone. There
are several factors. Vegetable oils do not contain cholesterol, but
excessive consumption of these oils leads
to increase in high cholesterol synthesis specifically bad cholesterol
in our body,” argues clinical nutritionist Charita Adikane.

Most of the claims are made using partial information and presenting
half-truths as a complete solution for any problem. There are various
products, which are very expensive and there is lot of hype created
about their benefits, cautions Suneetha Sapur of Akkshaya Foundation,
an organisation involved in promoting healthy life and nutrition.

“Sometime back I remember someone selling a normal bed for Rs 1 lakh
by inserting two magnets, supported by studies about the benefits of
sleeping in the magnetic field. If people can question and use common
sense, how to get the benefit of the magnet, all we need to do is
lying down on the ground. Is there any bigger and stronger magnet than
Mother Earth,” adds Sapur.

Most of the products uses this punch line "fresh/ natural", be it be a
beauty product or a health drink. Is it not wise to drink, eat or use
those natural products than depending on the commercial products,
which make the natural products artificial and unnatural?

“We need to be wise in choosing appropriate drink which will provide
balance of all macro and micro nutrients for us and our children,”
suggests Charita.


============
What you can do
============

* You may lodge complaint with the Advertising Standards Council of
India if you feel an advertisement misleading or offensive. Give
details about the advertisement including a print copy or recorded TV
clipping. ASCI can be reached on telephone (022) 23521066, 23516863.
Toll free number: 1-800-22-2724. Fax: 23516863. E-mail: asci@vsnl.com

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