CRN responds to inaccurate, misleading SI article on supplements

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In response to a recent article in the May 18 issue of Sports Illustrated magazine, the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN), the leading trade association representing the dietary supplement industry, issued a statement from its President/CEO Steve Mister.

According to the CRN, the Sports Illustrated’s article “What You Don’t Know Might Kill You,” (May 18, 2009) makes a number of inaccurate claims, including:

1. SI starts by referring to sports nutrition supplements as a “$20 billion obsession,” portraying the industry as eight times larger than it is. The CRN states that it’s true that more than 150 million Americans take dietary supplements annually, and that 72 percent of physicians recommend supplements – products that include vitamins, minerals, botanicals, sports nutrition, weight management, and specialty supplements. The entire dietary supplement industry has U.S. sales of approximately $24 billion, with vitamin sales alone representing approximately $10 billion of the total market.

But the sports nutrition supplements that are the focus of this article represent sales somewhere closer to $2.5 billion. But the SI article teases the story with a more dramatic $20 billion figure. The CRN points out that the estimate in the article for sports nutrition products includes not just dietary supplements, but a whole range of conventional food products and drinks that are marketed for weight loss as well. The CRN claims that using the “inflated figure seeks to portray a problem that, if it exists at all, represents only a very small portion of companies in the supplement industry not representative of the mainstream companies that manufacture products that consumers choose to include in their cadre of personal healthcare options.”

2. The article suggests that dietary supplements are exempted from the entry requirements and regulatory scrutiny that apply to all other FDA-regulated products, including food and drugs. According to the CRN that is not true. The article’s description is not how the CRN understands the laws and regulations. Since dietary supplements are regulated as a category of food, they get at least the same levels of scrutiny accorded to any kinds of food.

3. The article fails to place any responsibility on the professional athletes to know what they put in their bodies and the rules imposed on them by their leagues. Some substances (even caffeine and certain cold medicines) are banned by some professional sports organizations for their potential to provide an artificial “edge” to paid athletes; that doesn’t mean the product is unsafe for everyone else.

Read the full statement from Council for Responsible Nutrition response to the Sports Illustrated article here.

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