Dannon $21 Million Settlement Admits Activia Claims Exaggerated

6 years ago

Er ... you know all those commercials telling you that Dannon's Activia yogurt is going to make you all regular in the pooping department (oh, come on, we can't be adult about this when we're talking about yogurt and defecation in the same sentence) and how DanActive is going to keep you flu-free? Remember those claims? Turns out, not so much.

The FTC held them to those claims, pointing out that there wasn't evidence to back them up, and that it's just not cool to hawk your product as having these capabilities when you can't prove that it does. Which is why Dannon Co. Inc. is paying $21 million in a settlement and removing some of their claims from their products.

It may sound like it's not a big deal, but it's a victory in the fight of presenting correct information in a world of processed foods that are pushing the boundaries in their claims. As Michael Pollan points out, our great-grandmothers wouldn't be able to read a label these days and recognize our processed foods as ... well ... foods.

Dannon, which uses probiotics (live bacteria that they claimed prior to their point could help aid in digestion and keep you from getting sick) is a case in point. While yogurt itself -- especially the homemade stuff -- would be familiar to many of our great-grandparents depending on where they were from, this new wave of yogurt -- from Go-gurt sticks to probiotic-enhanced Activia -- introduces unrecognizable ingredients. And what do these ingredients do? When can we believe claims and when should we look at them with a skeptical eye?

The settlement doesn't remove the claims altogether. Like the other 400 probiotic products out on the market, it needs to reel back on the promises, not get rid of them.

The agreement "allows Dannon to continue to advertise the core benefits of its products, that Activia helps to regulate the digestive system and DanActive helps to support the immune system," the company said in a statement.

As a part of the settlement, Dannon is prohibited from claiming any "yogurt, dairy drink or probiotic food or drink reduces the likelihood of getting a cold or the flu," unless the company can get approval from the Food and Drug Administration to make the claim.

Dannon also can't say its Activia yogurt will relieve digestive issues unless its advertisement notes that consumers must eat three servings of the yogurt daily to obtain that benefit, the FTC said.

Because at the end of the day, probiotics have the potential to do good. But the potential to do good is a far cry from the claims Dannon has made that eating their yogurt will keep you from getting the flu. That's like saying that I run, therefore, I have a good chance of winning gold at the Olympics. The two may not be connected at all (and I have to believe that my paltry 10-minute mile isn't going to impress any judges) -- and this is the point that the FTC is trying to make. We don't need to look at probiotics as worthless, but are they worth spending money on and going out of our way to consume them? Do they do enough to make the claims that Dannon is making valid?

The fact is, probably not, which is the current stance of probiotic scientists. That eating whole grains and the recommended daily servings of fruit and vegetables should do the same thing to regulate our digestive system. We need to stop looking for quick shortcuts that are promised to us by processed foods, and use our calorie intake wisely to include those foods found on the perimeter of the food store (fruits, vegetables, meat, and basic dairy products).

Because isn't that what it's sometimes about? We want our cake (and we're eating it too) -- we want to be healthy, but we don't want to eat those foods we know are best for our bodies. We want the Oreos (oh for the love, I want those Oreos so badly), but we want to know that there are quick products we can grab that will do the work of all of those whole grains and vegetables that we're eschewing in order to eat the processed foods.

Fooducate Blog points out a simple way of approaching time in the food store:

Best to ignore any and all marketing claims disguised as science. Read the nutrition facts panel and the ingredient list.

If you can't recognize those ingredients or know what they do, best to not put them in your body. Go home, research it a bit, and then go back to food shopping with your hard-earned money. Don't give it to a company just because they say their product can do this or that.

Oh, and eat your damn whole grains and vegetables.

Do you seek out food products with probiotics? Will this settlement change that for you?

Photo Credit: theimpulsivebuy.

Melissa writes Stirrup Queens and Lost and Found. Her novel about blogging is Life from Scratch.

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