A UK television advert for Danone's Actimel yoghurt has been banned by the advertising watchdog over false claims that the product provides health benefits to children.

The advert, which showed a bottle of the product jumping over a skipping rope and a voiceover stating: "Kids love Actimel and it's good for them too", was scrutinised after a complaint from the public.

The viewer challenged whether a claim in the advert that Actimel was "scientifically proven to help support your kids' defences" could be substantiated.

Danone argued that 23 people in a study group of 6,000 across different age ranges had shown health benefits after drinking Actimel. The company said that, of those studies, eight had been carried out on children up to 16 years of age.

The French food and drink giant said the claim made in the current ad was supported by new studies that added to the scientific proof of Actimel's benefits.

Danone also explained that, although those studies had not been completed, or made available to advertising clearance body Clearcast at the time the ad was approved, they had since been presented to Clearcast and its nutritional consultant.

Clearcast said it had received substantiation for the claim from Danone, which was assessed by the ad body's nutrition consultant. It said the consultant was satisfied the claim had been supported, and approved the ad.

However, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) said the advert was in breach of advertising rules. The ASA said evidence provided by Danone did not uphold claims that the drinking yogurt could help "normal, healthy school-aged" youngsters protect against common childhood illnesses.

Danone had submitted evidence from five scientific studies to the ASA, two of which were carried out on hospitalised children in India suffering from acute diarrhoea or receiving medication for chronic gastritis-related illnesses. The ASA considered that both trials were unsuitable for use in support of a claim that was likely to be seen as referring to normal, healthy children.

The ASA concluded the advert must be banned as it broke rules for being misleading.

Danone said it had been in discussions with the ASA for over a year and added it was "very disappointed" with a ruling made on a ten-second ad last aired in August 2008.  

"Our scientific claims are sound and based on a large body of evidence. We have 24 published clinical studies, all of which demonstrate Actimel's positive health benefits, in a variety of circumstances, on a range of people, from children to the elderly," Danone said. 

"These studies are designed and approved by a board of internationally recognised experts with extensive, directly relevant experience in human clinical trials, effects of probiotics in the gut, paediatrics and immunology."