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OptiWay Food Intolerance Test - ARB Ruling - CAMcheck

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OptiWay Food Intolerance Test – ARB Ruling

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Posted 28 March 2022

The Directorate of the Advertising Regulatory Board was called upon to consider a complaint against claims made on the Advertiser’s website https://www.optiway.co.za/ and heard during a radio commercial.

The Complainant submitted that there is insufficient evidence to show that this test, which is “… essentially an IgG type test          ” can deliver on its claimed efficacy, that is, can detect foods which result in “food intolerance”.

The ARB  concluded that in light of the adverse finding, the Advertiser is requested to withdraw this claim with immediate effect and within the deadlines stipulated in Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide.

Decision of the ADVERTISING REGULATORY BOARD

Complainant: Dr Harris Steinman
Advertiser: OptiWay
Consumer/Competitor: Consumer
File reference: 1926 – OptiWay Foods – Steinman
Outcome: Upheld

Date: 28 March 2022

The Directorate of the Advertising Regulatory Board has been called upon to consider a complaint against claims made on the Advertiser’s website https://www.optiway.co.za/. The Complainant noted that the claim at issue was also heard during a radio commercial broadcast on Cape Talk just before 16:00 on 24 February 2022.

Description of the Advertising

The website states, inter alia, that “Optiway is a Food Intolerance Test that tests a full menu of 222 different types of food. This is a simple way to test which foods are suitable for you and which you are intolerant to”.

Complaint

The Complainant submitted that there is insufficient evidence to show that this test, which is “… essentially an IgG type test…… ” can deliver on its claimed efficacy. He added that the

Allergy Society of South Africa had previously published a position statement in the South African Medical Journal against such claims for these types of tests. A copy of this position statement was provided to the Directorate.

The Complainant also referenced a decision of the UK Advertising Standards Authority against claims made for a product called “YorkTest”, which, according to the complainant, is the same type of test as that utilised by the Advertiser. This decision is published at

https://www.asa.org.uk/rulings/yorktest-laboratories-ltd-g18-1016721-yorktest- laboratories-ltd.html.

The Complainant argued that the Advertiser was making unfounded claims which mislead vulnerable consumers into spending inordinate sums of money on a test that does not have any proven efficacy.

Response

The Advertiser noted firstly that the position statement published by the Allergy Society of South Africa was dated 2008; 14 years ago. This statement also noted that the role of IgG tests was “… certainly a question for further research

In the 14 years since this statement, a substantial body of medical literature has been published. This body of research shows that food sensitivity (IgG-mediated reactions) was a frequent cause of a wide range of physical and mental conditions. Studies have largely supported the role of IgG testing in illnesses, notably IBS and Migraine, which has been shown to be related to adverse food reactions. The Advertiser pertinently referenced some of these studies in its response, and submitted an additional document titled “Omega Health & Nutrition Food Specific IgG Antibodies Selected References”, which summarises some of the research with particular reference to general food sensitivity, migraine, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), inflammation, obesity, and other areas.

The Advertiser explained that the Complaint was based on an outdated position statement and ignored the fact that its OptiWay test was not intended to be used for the diagnosis and management of IgE food allergies, as was the case in the Allergy Society position statement.

It is apparent that some of the confusion around this complaint arises from the use of the term “food intolerance” when referring to an IgG mediated food reaction, particularly as allergists classify food intolerance as reactions that do not involve the immune system. The consequence of this, however, is that the very real value of properly designed IgG mediated elimination diets is negated.

Therefore, to assist this complaint, a clear distinction between the different types of food reactions and IgG mediated food reactions will be made and OptiWay will no longer refer to this type of test as a “food intolerance”, but rather a “food sensitivity”, which correlates with the manner in which many experts clarify this important distinction.

Application of the Code of Advertising Practice

The Complainant identified Clause 4.1 of Section II (Substantiation) as relevant.

Decision

Having considered all the material before it, the Directorate of the ARB issues the following finding.

At the outset, the Directorate notes that the Advertiser appears to intend changing its claims to refer to “food sensitivities” as opposed to “food intolerances”.

While this may have an impact on how experts in food allergies and intolerances view the claim from a technically informed perspective, the Directorate is not convinced that this would make any significant difference to an average consumer. Irrespective of whether the reference is made to “sensitivities” or “intolerances”, the claim still creates an impression that the Advertiser’s test can determine which foods cause discomfort, are associated with certain medical symptoms, or are generally unsuited to an individual’s diet and digestive system. This lies at the heart of the dispute, as the Complainant submitted that there is no evidence to show that the Advertiser’s test is able to do this.

As such, the semantic change does not bring about a solution to the problem, and the Directorate remains obligated to determine whether the Advertiser has provided appropriate substantiation for its claim.

Clause 4.1 of Section II requires advertisers to hold independent verification for any direct and/or implied claims that are capable of objective verification. It adds that such verification needs to emanate from an independent and credible expert in the field to which the claims relate. It is also trite that the ARB requires unequivocal verification because the ARB is not a medical, technical or research expert, and cannot draw conclusions from medical research or data in the same manner that an expert in such matters could.

There appears to be no dispute between the parties that the claim “Optiway is a Food Intolerance Test that tests a full menu of 222 different types of food. This is a simple way to test which foods are suitable for you and which you are intolerant to” is capable of independent verification in the manner that Clause 4.1 of Section II expects.

The question therefore becomes whether such substantiation has been submitted.

The Directorate accepts that the references incorporated in the Advertiser’s response all appear to acknowledge the potential value of, or at least further investigation into the potential benefits of using IgG testing. However, the following questions remain unanswered from the Advertiser’s submissions:

  • Is it true that scientific proof for the use of these so-called IgG tests has evolved to a point where they are acknowledged and accepted as appropriate for testing food sensitivities or intolerance?

And if so,

  • Is there independent verification that the Advertiser’s OptiWay test is an appropriate test, or that it provides reliable that allow customers to determine exactly “… which foods are suitable for you and which you are intolerant to ”?

Admittedly, several of the resources submitted by the Advertiser appear to suggest that IgG testing “may” (underlining added) prove beneficial or help healthcare workers, or that “some” evidence supports the use of IgG testing in relation to conditions such as migraine and IBS. These findings, however, typically go hand-in-hand with statements that further biomedical research is necessary or that these tests should be used with caution.

No unequivocal verification from an independent and credible expert was placed before the Directorate to verify, as a matter of fact, that IgG testing is accepted as a suitable tool for determining food intolerances (or sensitivities) and associated symptoms.

In addition to this, the Directorate remains unclear as to whether there are different types of IgG tests available, whether the Advertiser’s test constitutes a universal type of test, or whether it is unique enough to warrant research specific to this particular test.

Given that consumer health is integral to consumer protection, it would be irresponsible to simply assume that all IgG tests are equal. From a quick Google search, it would appear that there are several organisations marketing their own brand-name of food intolerance tests, which would suggest that each test is unique. By virtue of this, the Directorate expects evidence to show that the Advertiser’s OptiWay test has been tested and proven capable of identifying exactly “… which foods are suitable for you and which you are intolerant to

None of the articles and references submitted by the Advertiser make any reference to OptiWay. In addition, no independent verification from a credible expert in this field was submitted to deal with this question or verify that the various research findings are applicable to, or constitute proof of the claims made for the Advertiser’s OptiWay test.

Given the absence of suitable verification from an independent and credible expert, the Directorate cannot accept that the Advertiser’s claim that OptiWay “……… is a simple way to test which foods are suitable for you and which you are intolerant to…. ” is substantiated within the meaning of Clause 4.1 of Section II of the Code.

Sanction

In light of the adverse finding, the Advertiser is requested to withdraw this claim with immediate effect and within the deadlines stipulated in Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide. Members are also requested not to accept advertising implying or claiming that OptiWay “… is a simple way to test which foods are suitable for you and which you are intolerant to”.

The Advertiser’s attention is drawn to the provisions of Clause 4.1.7 of Section II should it wish to submit further and better substantiation.

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