POM(pous) Claims? Juice Makers Accused of Overstating Health Benefits

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It has a sleek, curvy bottle, features the juice from an exotic fruit and has a catchy name, but according to both government and consumer agencies, POM Wonderful is a drink that's not as wonderful as its manufacturer claims.

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission issued a complaint this week against the makers of POM Wonderful 100 Percent Pomegranate Juice and POMx supplements, accusing the company of making "false and unsubstantiated claims" in its advertisements that these products will prevent or treat heart disease, prostate cancer and erectile dysfunction.

But POM Wonderful is just the most recent drink to feature dubious nutritional claims, and experts say while these drinks may offer some health benefits, consumers should be wary of products that make promises that sound too good to be true.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit consumer group, praised the FTC's actions and called out POM Wonderful's makers for using shoddy science to back up the disease-fighting abilities of its products.

"We looked at the POM studies, and some don't meet the criteria of a high school science fair," said Bruce Silverglade, director of legal affairs at the center. "One study has no control group and another study involved 10 people."

Silverglade said POM Wonderful does not adhere to guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Administration.

"The FDA has specific regulations since 1993 that require companies to get pre-market approval before making such claims," he said. "Had POM's research actually been credible, the company could have followed the law and petitioned the FDA for approval of the disease prevention claims."

In response to the complaint, POM Wonderful called the FTC's allegations "unwarranted" and said it stands by the research, which, it says, supports the benefits of its products.

"We do not make claims that our products act as drugs. What we do, rather, is communicate, through advertising, the promising science relating to pomegranates," the company said on its website. "Consumers and their health providers have a right to know about this research and its results."

Nutritionists say POM juice does offer health benefits, but not to the extent the company claims.

"It's really good, high anti-oxidant juice," said Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "It's not easy to get pomegranates, so it's a good source."

But he added that when a product's advertisements claims to have proof of some benefit, consumers should be wary of it.

"Proof is a loaded word and a difficult one to use when talking about scientific literature," he said.

"There's information out there on POM juice that's promising, but no studies that confirm a cause-effect relationship," said Stacey Nelson, manager of clinical nutrition at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Makers of Vitaminwater Sued for Misleading Claims

Vitaminwater, a flavored water made by Coca-Cola's Glaceau subsidiary, also recently came under fire for its nutritional claims.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest filed a class-action lawsuit last year against Coca-Cola over Vitaminwater's use of terms such as "defense," "rescue," "energy," and "endurance" in its advertisements, as well as for saying the product can lower the risk of eye disease, boost immunity and improve joint health.

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