‘Carb Blocker’: UK agency rules against Protein World product's name and social media ads
The ASA said two complaints had initially challenged whether social media claims that the company’s ‘Carb Blocker Capsules’ could stop unused sugars from being stored as fat in the body breached health claims rules and the advertising standards code.
The social media posts in question relate to a tweet from television personality Holly Hagan's Twitter account, dated 24 May 2017, for Protein World’s “Carb Blocker Capsules” which stated:
“Always take my @ProteinWorld Carb Blockers Before a Cheat meal, contain [sic] natural ingredients and stop any unused sugars being used as fat #ad”.
The tweet included a photo of Holly holding a burger with a jar of “Carb Blocker” on a table in front of her.
A further complaint was made regarding an Instagram post, seen on 26 May 2017, posted on Protein World’s Instagram page. This post included a photograph of a model holding a burger with a jar of Carb Blockers in front of her along with a plate of chips. The text stated:
“We are already planning our weekend treat at PW head quarters [sic] with carb blockers at the ready! Take 2 carb blockers 30 mins before a high carb meal to stop unused sugars being stored as fat in the body! Guilt free Treat…what a dream. Shop online proteinworld.com #proteinworld #lifestyle #cheatmeal #burger”
Protein World responded to the ASA to note that it had since spoken to Holly Hagan’s agent and asked them to take down the tweet. The company has also removed the Instagram post.
Furthermore, Protein World said it had received advice to add chromium to the product to substantiate the implied health claim in the product’s name – noting that there are two authorised health claims in relation to chromium’s macronutrient metabolism and glucose metabolism properties.
The company argued that these claims are physiologically linked and formed a feedback mechanism where the catabolism and anabolism of macronutrients, especially carbohydrates, were regulated by the glucose level in the bloodstream.
By supporting both catabolism and anabolism of macronutrients, Protein World argued that chromium helped to ensure there was no excessive depositing of carbohydrate which the body would by natural processes convert to fat. The firm also provided the ASA with an extract from a 2017 lab report showing that after a discussion with local Trading Standards it was agreed the product would be redeveloped as a source of chromium, and that this would allow the use of claims concerning the substance’s contribution to normal macronutrient metabolism and maintenance of blood glucose levels.
However, the ASA noted that according to EC Regulation 1924/2006 on nutrition and health claims, a health claim is defined as something stated, suggested or implied a relationship between a food, or ingredient, and health.
“We considered that in the context of a food supplement, consumers would consider “Carb Blocker” to refer to something that offered significantly greater prevention than the body could naturally achieve without its use, i.e. the significantly improved ability to prevent the storage of unused sugars as fat,” said the ASA.
“We considered consumers would understand that process to be a health benefit of the product,” it added – noting that the claims and product name were therefore health claims.
Furthermore, the UK agency stated that while there are two authorised health claims on the EU Register for chromium, relating to ‘normal macronutrient metabolism’ and ‘the maintenance of normal blood glucose levels’, such claims can only be used for foods which were at least a source of trivalent chromium.
However, the ASA said Protein World did provide evidence that demonstrated their product contained sufficient quantities of trivalent chromium to meet either of the authorised health claims.
“We [also] considered the advertising claims did not have the same meaning as the authorised claims, which referred to normal physiological processes of the body relating to macronutrient metabolism and blood glucose levels, because they implied the product was significantly greater at preventing carbohydrates, including unused sugars, from converting into fat,” concluded the ASA.
“That impression was strengthened by the ads’ photos and the hashtags such as #cheatmeal. The ads also attributed the health benefits to the advertiser’s product rather than to the substance to which the authorised health claim related,” the ASA added – noting that the product name “Carb Blocker” and claims that the product prevents unused sugars being stored in the body “do not accurately reflect the meaning of either of the specific authorised health claims and therefore breached the Code.”