NAD challenges several Similac Advance claims

NEW YORK — The National Advertising Division of the Council of Better Business Bureaus last week determined Abbott Nutrition could support certain advertising claims made for Similac Advance and Similac Sensitive infant formula. However, NAD recommended that Abbott modify or discontinue certain other claims.

NAD determined that Abbott had a reasonable basis for its “No. 1 brand-fed in hospitals” claim.

NAD determined that the claim that Similac Advance is “[s]tudied and proven to be well tolerated in newborns < 14 days old,” as opposed to Enfamil, which “[w]as not studied in newborns (< 14 days old)” is factually accurate and not misleading. However, NAD was troubled by Abbott’s claims that its own prebiotics are “naturally found in breast milk,” as opposed to PDX (Enfamil’s prebiotic), which “is not naturally found in breast milk.” NAD noted that while it is true that GOS, the advertiser’s prebiotic, is found in small amounts in the breast milk of some women, NAD determined that consumers could take away the unsupported message that GOS is found in the breast milk of most or all lactating women. Further, when coupled with Abbott’s claim that Similac Advance has been “studied and proven to be well tolerated in newborns < 14 days old,” the “naturally found in breast milk” claim could connote an unproven safety advantage. Consequently, NAD recommended that the advertiser discontinue this claim.

NAD determined, however, that Abbott lacked a reasonable basis for a long-term bone health superiority claim and recommended the advertiser discontinue the following claim: “Bone mass increases at its fastest rate during the first year. How bones develop during this period and throughout childhood can potentially affect bone health for life. That’s why it’s so important for your baby to get the right amounts of key bone nutrients — like calcium — from the very first day.”

NAD also reviewed the advertiser’s prebiotics claims, which appeared in a two-column print advertisement that juxtaposed Similac Advance, described as “well tolerated in clinical studies” and Enfamil Premium, described as displaying “significant intolerances and adverse events in a clinical study.” NAD noted in its decision that the advertisement “gives the impression that Enfamil Premium is relatively unsafe and unstudied. Also, by juxtaposing the two bar graphs side-by-side, the advertiser creates the impression that the graphs and accompanying text are presenting data that is somehow comparable — and that Enfamil performed far worse than Similac on the measured endpoints.”

NAD noted that a study relied upon by the advertiser did find “adverse events” — as defined by the study authors — and concluded that the advertiser could truthfully promote the results of the study as long it did so in a nonmisleading manner. NAD noted that in the advertising at issue, however, “Abbott highlighted the three ‘adverse’ outcomes and failed to mention the 69 nonadverse outcomes. Abbott also failed to put the study into context by acknowledging the numerous studies that show Enfamil Premium to be safe and well-tolerated.”

Claims made by Abbott Nutrition in print, website advertising and on packaging were challenged before NAD, the advertising industry’s self-regulatory forum, by Mead Johnson & Company, a competing maker of infant formula.

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