No time to wait on weight management science

By Shane Starling in Amsterdam

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Weight management, Nutrition, European union, European food safety authority, Danone

The need for more and better science backing health claims was the central theme at a weight management and satiety seminar held in Amsterdam this week, as well as growing trepidation about health claims in Europe.

The event highlighted challenges in designing clinical trials with the spectre of the European Union nutrition and health regulation hanging over the day’s scientific discussions and presentations.

Health claim lottery

Julian Stowell, PhD, the science director at Danisco, called the EU health claims regulation, “the biggest lottery ever seen in food legislation.”

He also wondered how large was the pool of high-quality scientists to which EFSA had access to complete the assessment process, as most of it was done via a freelance system without remuneration.

While an overall feeling of positivity about the weight control and satiety sector dominated proceedings, there were warnings about poorly designed trials without clear aims that were in the European Food Safety Authority’s hands for imminent assessment, and which were unlikely to be viewed favourably by the assessor.

Study designs

Kerry Group’s director of sciences, clinical trials and statistics, Wim Calame, highlighted the importance of clarity of aim and thoughtful design in the weight management area – especially as end markers such as fullness, calorie control, body shape, metabolism control and more all fall within the umbrella of weight management.

He noted the potential of fibres to assist in weight control but called for more research. He said prebiotics had an advantage over probiotics because “they were more sustainable” ​but again well-designed trials were needed.

In his presentation, Stowell highlighted some of the claims that been lodged with the EU and were being considered by EFSA and due for completion by January, 2010. These included 49 “dietary fibre” claims; 74 under the term “weight management”; 48 under “weight loss” and 45 under “satiety”.

Danone and Unilever

In a round table, Danone and Unilever representatives discussed the weight management sector and how it figured in their company’s plans.

Unilever lead scientist and global R&D project leader, Dr Sergey Melnikov, said the weight management sector was being squeezed by discounters and private label that was de-incentivising investment in innovative ingredients.

But despite the company’s failure with the plant extract hoodia it was committed to ongoing research.

Danone’s Alexandra Boelrijk, manager of sensory and consumer science, spoke of education and how important it was to realise that much innovation was technically driven and difficult to translate to consumers.

“Consumers resist many emulsions,”​ she said. “Education is about finding the right terms.”

DSM corporate scientist in its Human Nutrition division Wim Saris, the chair of the day, noted pharma weight management treatments only had a weight loss record of five per cent.

Related topics: Suppliers, Health claims, Weight management

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