FTC quashes Tropicana's 'Healthy Heart' claims

Related tags Nutrition

The FTC has reached a settlement with Tropicana Products over
advertisements claiming that its Healthy Heart orange juice could
reduce blood pressure, cholesterol and homocysteine levels,
writes Jess Halliday, dealing a blow to a company that wants
to be seen to be keeping up with healthy living trends.

In advertisements that appeared on television and in print publications including Newsweek and the New York Times between 2002 and early 2004, the PepsiCo subsidiary made a series of claims that the FTC alleges were unsubstantiated.

It said that drinking three cups of Tropicana orange juice a day for four weeks will raise HDL cholesterol by 21 percent and improve the ratio of HDL to LDL cholesterol by 16 percent; drinking 20 ounces of Tropicana orange juice a day will increase blood levels of folate by almost 45 percent and decrease homocysteine levels by 11 percent; and drinking two cups of Tropicana orange juice a day for six or eight weeks will lower systolic blood pressure an average of 10 points.

What's more, the FTC said that claims of clinical support to back them up were false.

"Orange juice contains many nutrients important to a healthy diet, and advertising can be an important source of information about the health benefits of foods,"​ said Lydia Parnes, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection. "But it is essential that such advertising be truthful. In this case Tropicana's claims went well beyond its scientific support."

The terms of the consent agreement bar Tropicana from making similar claims in the future without the support of reliable scientific evidence. Violation of the agreement may result in a civil penalty of $11,000.

Tropicana has pointed out that the settlement agreement is not an admission that the company has violated any law, or that the facts alleged are true.

"We have agreed not to make the claims identified in the settlement agreement without competent and reliable scientific evidence,"​ it said in a statement.

It added that it is "moving forward with promoting the benefits of Tropicana products as part of a healthy diet"​ and is "committed to providing timely, accurate, and science-based information"​.

PepsiCo has pledged that 50 percent of it new products will use "essentially healthy ingredients or offer improved health benefits"​, and last July introduced its Smart Spot symbol on the labeling of healthier products.

Smart Spot criteria place limits on the amounts of fat (saturated and trans fats), cholesterol, sodium and added sugar that can be contained in a product bearing the symbol as well as drawing attention to products with specific health benefits and those fortified with known wholesome ingredients.

Healthy Heart is one of five juice products in the Tropicana's Pure Premium Essentials range. Unlike leading competitors in the juice market it does not contain plant sterols.

Minute Maid Premium Heart Wise contains one gram of plant sterols per 8 fl oz serving, which means it can carry the health claim "foods containing at least 0.4 grams per serving of plant sterols, consumed twice a day with meals for a total daily intake of at least 0.8 grams, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol, may reduce the risk of heart disease"​.

Rather, Tropicana is now marketing its Healthy Heart by drawing attention to 450 mg of potassium (known to help lower blood pressure) per 8 fl oz serving. A serving also contains 20 percent of the RDI of both vitamins B6 and B12 which it says "actively promote heart health"​, 240 and 100 percent of RDIs of vitamins C and E respectively to "protect cells and tissue"​ and 15 percent of the RDI for folate, which "may help maintain a healthy cardiovascular system by reducing levels of homocysteine"​.

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