Weight loss pills and immune system supplements marketed in the US often make unsubstantiated claims and have misleading, even illegal labels, according to a government report released Wednesday.
The report by the Department of Health and Human Services found 20 percent of the 127 weight loss and immune-boosting supplements it studied made illegal and unsubstantiated claims that they could treat diseases including cancer, influenza, herpes and HIV. In some cases, the report said, such claims could be harmful.
The study also found that seven percent were missing the required disclaimer stating that the Food and Drug Administration had not yet evaluated whether the product claims were accurate.
“Consumers rely on a supplement’s claims to determine whether the product will provide a desired effect, such as weight loss or immune support,” the report read. “Supplements that make disease claims could mislead consumers into using them as replacements for prescription drugs… with potentially dangerous results.”
Overall, the report paints a picture of an enormously profitable but largely unmonitored industry that makes enticing claims to get consumers to purchase products that may not help them.
Investigators purchased weight loss and immune system supplements online and at pharmacies, retailers and supermarkets in five major US cities: New York, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles and Seattle.
Dietary supplements are not tested or approved by the Food and Drug Administration before they hit store shelves, but results of the study may prompt more oversight. Investigators recommend the agency get the authority to review claims and expand market surveillance of such products.