Benecol maker Johnson & Johnson has been picked up by the ASA over "misleading" health claims

Benecol maker Johnson & Johnson has been picked up by the ASA over "misleading" health claims

Johnson & Johnson has said it is "disappointed" at UK advertising ruling that said the healthcare giant had "exaggerated" the health benefits of Benecol.

The UK's Advertising Standards Authority said the ad, which claimed the yoghurt drink had been "proven to lower cholesterol" and could "lower cholesterol up to 10% in three weeks, was misleading.

Under EU health claim rules for the plant stanol esters used in Benecol allows manufacturers to claim 'they have been shown to lower/reduce blood cholesterol', the ASA said.

Manufacturers can also say 'high cholesterol is a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease'.

The regulation allows some rewording of claims. However, the ASA said it was "concerned that although the ad stated "lower cholesterol up to 10% in three weeks" and "proven to lower cholesterol", it did not include the required information about high cholesterol being a risk factor in the development of coronary heart disease.

"We therefore considered the meaning of the authorised disease risk reduction claim was significantly altered," the ad watchdog said.

The ASA added there was "no official consensus" over Benecol's use of the term "high cholesterol", adding the claim 'two out of three adults have high cholesterol' was misleading.

In an email to just-food, Johnson & Johnson said: "We believe we have strong scientific evidence for the claims we made." It said it would "stand behind the validity of the claims outlined" in the ad.

"The claim that '2 out of 3 adults have high cholesterol' is a widely-used statistic in the UK. Furthermore, we believe the wording of the claims 'lower cholesterol by up to 10% in 3 weeks' and 'proven to lower cholesterol' are fair and accurate summaries of the full claim which has been evaluated by the European Food Safety Authority and approved by the European Commission."

The firm, which manufactures Benecol in the UK under licence for Finland's Raisio, the brand's owner, said the ad had not been aired since July 2013 and it did not intend to use it again following the ruling.