Supplementary advice on health claims in ads for supplements

Jan 11th '24

There are strict limitations on the kinds of health claims that can be made in ads for supplements. Not all claims for supplements are unacceptable, and many ingredients do have benefits that are permitted for use in advertising if they are presented appropriately.


This is a complex area of ad regulation, and we have numerous other detailed resources available, but here are a few key points to remember when advertising supplements.


  • Supplements are considered ‘food,’ not ‘medicine’

Unless your product is a licensed medicine, you cannot make any medicinal claims (whether direct or implied). You are making a medicinal claim if you are saying that your product can help diagnose, treat, or prevent any kind of disease, injury, or adverse condition, whether it’s physical or mental, in people and/or animals.


Because they are ingested, supplements are considered ‘food’ and are subject to Section 15 of the  Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code (Broadcast Committee of Advertising Practice (BCAP) Section 13) – medicinal claims for foods are prohibited (though some ‘disease risk reduction claims’ are permitted if they are authorised).


The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has previously ruled on ads for products claiming to treat or cure various conditions, including: influenzaCOVID-19clinical vitamin deficiencyAlzheimer’s disease, memory loss and anxiety. Even treating or preventing hangovers has been ruled on as unacceptable in this vein.


  • Know your GHCs from SHCs and check the GB Britain Nutrition and Health Claims Register (GB NHC Register)

general health claim (GHC) is a reference to a general benefit of a nutrient or food for overall good health or health-related well-being. Some examples of GHCs the ASA have ruled on are: “superfood,” “superfoods,” “super fruit,” “full of goodness,” “[ingredient] goodness”, “detox”, “detoxifier,” “restores balance”.


You can make a GHC as long as it can be supported and accompanied by an appropriate specific health claim (SHC), and this SHC should appropriately reflect an authorised claim on the Great Britain Nutrition and Health Claims Register (the GB NHC Register).


SHCs are claims which refer to, suggest, or imply a relationship between a food/nutrient and health. Only SHCs that are ‘authorised’ on the GB NHC Register are permitted to appear in ads.


A GHC must always be accompanied by a relevant SHC, but an SHC could also be used on its own. The ASA has ruled that accompanying SHCs should appear next to or immediately following the GHC.


  • SHCs must be presented appropriately and accurately reflect an authorised claim

A key principle underpinning the use of authorised SHCs is that marketers must ensure that the claim is made in relation to the relevant nutrient or food for which it has been authorised, rather than for the product as a whole – replacing the nutrient referred to in the authorised claim with the product name is unacceptable.


Although SHC wording may differ slightly from the wording of the authorised claim in the GB NHC Register, it must have the same meaning for consumers i.e. if the authorised claim says that an ingredient “supports the normal function of X”, you can’t say that it “improves X”, because those are very different claims.


Advertisers must also hold evidence that the product contains the amount required of a nutrient or ingredient to meet the conditions of use of the relevant authorised claim and follow any other conditions for the use of the claim.


  • Customer testimonials do not absolve your responsibilities

If you have chosen to incorporate customer testimonials and feedback about a product into your advertising, you are responsible for ensuring those claims are compliant with the Code.


An ASA ruling looked at customer testimonials incorporated into a YouTube pre-roll ad for a supplement. The ruling determined that claims “I don’t get sick,” “my pain totally disappeared” and the product “decreased my anxiety” were prohibited claims that the product could prevent, treat, or cure disease. The ruling also determined that the claims “Great for mood and hair and skin” and “it’s helping people to become less stressed, to look their best, to have more energy, to be able to function their best” were both GHCs which were not accompanied by SHCs, and therefore broke the rules.


This is just a snapshot of some of the key points in relation to health claims but there is a lot more to know – we haven’t even started on nutrition claims!


Source: CAP


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