Diet shakes: Weight-loss claims debated or over-regulated?

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 12th September 2011

The effectiveness of popular diet shakes for weight-management programs continues to divide opinion. Whilst celebrity testimonials and marketers claim the effectiveness of these products, health professionals contrive to challenge their efficacy in losing weight.

The diet shake debate was reignited last week when Australian cricketer Shane Warne, speaking to Melbourne radio station 3AW, credited diet shakes for his own weight loss.

According to recent figures from market researcher IBISWorld, more than half of Australia’s adult population is either overweight or obese and an ever-growing amount of consumer spending is being directed toward efforts to get thinner and healthier. Diet shakes as meal replacement formulations or supplements are being heavily promoted to counter obesity.

Nutritionist’s perspective on diet shakes

Weight Watchers’ nutrition adviser Emma Stirling disputes many of the claims. She told Australian Food News, “Meal replacement shakes are designed to maintain your nutrition status, while you lose weight. However, while a few are properly formulated by government guidelines with appropriate levels of vitamins, minerals, fibre, omega-3’s and more, others are lacking in key nutrients and are not nutritionally complete.

“The key concern of many health professionals however, is that meal replacements are a temporary fix. And even though there are a lot of celebrity testimonials, ‘on-pack guarantees’ and ‘persuasive promises’, there are no published studies to support most of the brands bursting out of pharmacies,” she said.

Marketing diet shakes and dietary supplements in Australia

A spokesperson for the Australian Sports Commission told Australian Food News, “Many protein supplements are very expensive due primarily to the amount of marketing that accompanies products. They tend to provide very large amounts of protein and little other nutrients. There is no need for the amount of protein provided by many supplements and there is certainly no justification for the extra cost.”

The marketing of diet shakes and dietary supplements can be regulated in Australia by either the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) or under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code, depending on formulation or other regulatory criteria (such as form of product presentation, or marketing claims or methods of manufacture).

Leading food industry regulation-compliance expert Joe Lederman of the specialist law firm FoodLegal said, “Diet shakes are a typical product where compliance falls in the potential ‘grey area’ of regulatory choice by manufacturers. There are companies choosing to market their product as a TGA-registered ‘dietary supplement’ but some are manufactured as a ‘formulated meal replacement’ or as some other special-purpose food under the Australia New Zealand Food Standards Code.”

Symposium to focus of food-therapeutic interface and healthcare foods and dietary products

Mr Lederman added, “There can be a regulatory choice carrying various advantages and disadvantages for manufacturers or importers of diet shake products such as probiotics, botanical extracts, herbal infusions, sports beverages, energy drinks, and the like. In actual fact, this is the subject-matter of an upcoming half-day FoodLegal Symposium in Sydney.”

The Symposium is to be held in Sydney on the morning Monday 10 October, “Healthy Bodies of Law: Food or Therapeutic? Finding the Advantages in Regulatory Differences”. Pre-bookings are essential to secure a place. For more information, go to:

Speakers will include:

Mr  Dean Stockwell, General Manager, Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). His talk will provide information about the latest updates on the development of an Australian Health-Claims Food Standard, and information about recent changes and predicted changes ahead for Special Purposes Foods (Part 2.9 of the Food Standards Code) and regulated issues.

Mr Marcello Saponaro
, Deputy Head of Enforcement in New South Wales of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), will be speaking about enforcement issues and criteria in the Health and and Food and Dietary therapeutic areas.

Mr Joe Lederman
, Managing Principal of FoodLegal, who specialises in food industry legal compliance, will be speaking about Regulatory Advantages in choosing the Food regulatory route and will explain marketing opportunities for healthy messages of functional foods, as well as related regulatory issues involving New Zealand.

Mr Charles Fisher, who is also from FoodLegal and is a lawyer and regulatory compliance trainer, will speak on the topic “Pushing the Boundaries of Food regulation” and will consider compositional methodologies that can open opportunities for product developers.

Mr Robert Forbes, a director of Robert Forbes and Associates, a leading consultancy in the field of complementary medicines will speak on Regulatory Advantages in the choice of Therapeutics or TGA regulatory routes for such products.

Associate Professor Dr Tom Faunce of Australian National University, who has both medical and legal qualifications, and is currently an ARC Future Fellow in nanotechnology and public health, will speak about implications of technological change (such as nanotechnology) affecting regulators and marketers of therapeutic and healthcare products or of food products.