Don’t believe those probiotic yogurt health claims



by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

No doubt you have seen those supremely annoying television commercials for Activia probiotic yogurt – the ones with the belly dancing midsections, promising some vaguely happy midsection outcome if we take the Activia challenge for 14 days in a row.  You may not be seeing those ads for much longer, however, because it’s been a very bad month for probiotic bacteria.

Activia is the superstar of yogurt brands, bringing in over $100 million in sales during its first year of release in North America alone. But last week, the European Food Safety Authority published its evaluation of Dannon’s Activia and DanActive yogurts, finding them lacking in scientific evidence to support their advertised health claims.

This comes hard on the heels of a $35 million settlement in a U.S. lawsuit for its massive false advertising campaign that convinced consumers to pay 30% more for their yogurt containing probiotic bacteria.

Probiotic bacteria are live bacteria that are supposed to not only help regulate your digestion, but also help improve your immune system. These bacteria can be found naturally in your intestinal tract, but scientists say that as you age, good bacteria such as probiotics will decrease. Dannon has claimed their yogurt will help replenish the good bacteria to your system, thus improving your health.

Not so fast, say the courts, that found even Dannon’s own studies failed to prove that Activia has health benefits superior to other brands of yogurt.

This decision may be significant for our heart health, because Dannon’s parent company, Danone Group of France, was – until this false advertising legal settlement – already planning to launch ad campaigns overseas that also claim Activia lowers cholesterol.

According to Dr. Bret Lashner, a gastroenterologist at the world-famous Cleveland Clinic, there are few credible studies showing that any probiotics actually work.

“Mostly anecdotal information is available. You won’t know if a probiotic works unless your symptoms go away. 

“Most studies have shown mixed results. In clinical trials for irritable bowel syndrome, some patients experienced improvement in symptoms, and some didn’t. In a study on upper respiratory infection, probiotics reduced the duration of the illness, but the results were not duplicated when a different probiotic was used.”

An exception, he says, appears to be using probiotics for infant colic, although the long-term effects of giving babies probiotics is unknown.

Read more about Activia’s false advertising campaign in The Ethical Nag.

NEWS FLASH! February 28, 2010:  Dannon has reached a settlement in a class action suit brought against it for falsely representing the health benefits of its yogurt. The company will pay up to $100 to individual consumers who have been misled by its “health claims”. Dannon must also remove the words “clinically”, “scientifically proven” and “immunity”  from product labels, as well as include a qualifier to its claim the yogurt “helps strengthen your body’s defenses” or “helps support the immune system.

Read Fooducate‘s report called “Yogurt Lovers Rejoice and Collect Your $100 Settlement”.


3 thoughts on “Don’t believe those probiotic yogurt health claims

  1. I read the full article you wrote on The Ethical Nag about this topic. I disagree – I have found a great deal of personal benefit in this particular yogurt compared to other yogurt on the market, and no I don’t work for the company or its ad agency!


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