WASHINGTON—While a recent review argued sponsorship of sport by nutritional supplements lends “unwarranted credibility" to products and may mislead consumers (J Med Ethics. 2014; Sept 22. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2014-102147), responses from the Natural Product Association (NPA) and Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) indicate these suppositions should be taken with a grain of salt.
The new review proposed sponsorship of sport by both nutritional supplements and sport drink companies should be re-evaluated due to ethical concerns, and researchers Simon Outram and Bob Stewart suggested such sponsorships deceive the public by making them think the products work well and/or are good for health.
“It is for good reason that nutritional supplement and sports drinks companies invest heavily in sports sponsorship," the authors wrote. “Such sponsorship—together with associated product endorsements and advertising—conveys the message that their products are integral to sporting engagement and achievement."
However, according to Dan Fabricant, Ph.D., CEO of NPA, it’s more important to “engage the public" through sponsorships and advertising rather than falsely believe people must be protected from all marketing techniques.
“A sponsorship is a sponsorship," Fabricant said. “People know what advertising is. Just because Office Depot sponsors the NFL, consumers don’t assume the players ran faster because they used their office products."
Fabricant also said the ethics of sport are always a challenge because people will do anything to win. Therefore, the public is better off seeing sponsorships from responsible companies making sports products than turning to the next products in line to help them get ahead—which may likely be drugs or illegal substances.
CRN’s Judy Blatman, senior vice president, communications, asserted that sponsorships are legitimate marketing tools for companies and industries of all types. Within the nutritional supplement and sports drink industries, she stressed that products are “highly valued by athletes" due to their many benefits.
“Those who run sports events don’t need to be dictated to and can make their own decisions about sponsorship dollars," Blatman said. “Further, consumers are smart enough to understand what sponsorships are all about, and should be allowed to make their own decisions about the products they purchase. The researchers are entitled to their opinion, but their blanket statement about the science behind nutritional supplements is inaccurate and inappropriate, and we don’t think it will carry much weight."
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