“Carb Blocker Capsules”: Protein World's marketing breaches EU code, UK agency rules

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23 Mar 2018 --- The UK Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that the marketing of “Carb Blocker Capsules” from Protein World breaches EU regulation health codes. The “Carb Blocker Capsules” were promoted via social media but two complaints challenged whether the capsules could, in fact, stop unused sugars from carbs being stored as fat in the body, as claimed. ASA stated that although the product followed certain health regulations, the accompanying market and naming were ruled to not adequately reflect the real nature of the product, and therefore, were in breach of the code.

ASA concluded that the product name “Carb Blocker” and claims that the product prevented unused sugars being stored in the body did not accurately reflect the meaning of either of the specifically authorized health claims and therefore breached the Code.

The “Carb Blocker Capsules” were promoted via Instagram by an influencer, named Holly Hagan. The promotion featured Hagan holding a burger with a jar of the capsules clearly in the shot. The caption stated “Always take my @ProteinWorld Carb Blockers Before a Cheat meal, contain natural ingredients and stop any unused sugars being used as fat #ad.”

In a second post from 2017, Protein World’s own page posted a promotional feature of the capsules which was captioned, “We are already planning our weekend treat at PW headquarters [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”. It 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.

In response to allegations of false, or misleading, advertising Protein world removed the posts. They stated the fact that the product contained chromium which as an ingredient has two authorized health claims on the EU register about its macronutrient metabolism and glucose metabolism properties.

By supporting both catabolism and anabolism of macronutrients, Protein World said that chromium helped to ensure there was no excessive depositing of carbohydrate which the body would, by natural processes, convert to fat. 

Although EC regulations state products containing a significant source of trivalent chromium can be said to hold health claims, the marketing was still flagged as in breach of the code.

A battle over the semantics of the noun, Block, and the advertising style was most significant in the ruling. ASA stated that the tools used in the marketing scheme pointed to health claims which were not substantiated by the product itself.

Although, Protein World argued that the term “Blocker”, as opposed to block or blocked would have, given the sporting context of the term and its use in medicines such as beta blockers, been understood by consumers to mean something that impeded the action of something else without completely preventing it.

However, ASA stated that the semantics of the word “Blocker” would lead consumers to assume the product provided the body a protection from carbohydrates. This was enhanced by the context of it being a supplement and the marketing claims. For example, influencers posing behind foods such as burgers and fries with an indication that the blocker capsules could provide "protection."

Only health claims listed as authorized on the EU Register of nutrition and health claims made on foods (the EU Register) are permitted in marketing communications. Health claims are defined as those that state, suggest or imply a relationship between a food, or ingredient, and health

In the end, the product did not meet the conditions to apply the authorized health claims for the reasons of semantics and marketing, and Protein World has been directed to change the name, and the accompanying marketing.

NutritionInsight has reached out to Protein World for further comments.

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