Ad banned over cholesterol claims

Updated: 

Benecol

A Johnson & Johnson advert for a yoghurt drink has been banned for exaggerating the product's health benefits and misleadingly implying that the majority of healthy UK adults have high cholesterol.

The television ad for Benecol yoghurt drinks began with a voiceover saying: "Did you know two out of three adults have high cholesterol? Just like Linda here, until she discovered that ... certain foods lower cholesterol.

"Like Benecol which is proven to lower cholesterol by up to 10% in just three weeks."

Two viewers complained that the claim "two out of three adults have high cholesterol" was misleading, and the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) challenged whether the ad made unauthorised health claims.

Johnson & Johnson said total blood cholesterol levels of higher than 5 mmol/l were considered high or raised, and 2011 World Health Organisation statistics showed the prevalence of raised cholesterol to be 65.6% for males and 65.7% for females.

The company added that many respected medical, health professional and leading commercial organisations in the UK were currently using the same or similar statements in their literature.

The ASA said there was no official consensus that total cholesterol levels of over 5 mmol/l always equated to high cholesterol for generally healthy adults.

It said: "We considered the ad implied that two thirds of healthy UK adults currently had cholesterol levels that were generally accepted as 'high', whereas we had not seen evidence that was the case.

"We concluded that the claim 'two out of three adults have high cholesterol' was misleading and that the overall impression of the ad was such that it therefore exaggerated the health benefit of the product."

The ASA also said it was concerned that the ad stated that Benecol had been proven to lower cholesterol when it was plant stanol esters that had been shown could lower blood cholesterol.

It ruled that the ad must not be broadcast again in its current form, and said: "We told Johnson & Johnson to ensure future ads did not give a misleading impression of the health benefits of a product and that such benefits were presented clearly and without exaggeration.

"We also told them to ensure future health claims met the conditions of use associated with the relevant claim as specified in the EU Register."

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