The advertisement featured people waiting at a bus stop and children exiting from a building in a wintery scene. The voice over stated:
“When the season’s change and the weather becomes less predictable, you know it’s essential to support your immune system.”
The advertisement then changed scene to a kitchen and showed a mother taking two Danone Actimels from the fridge and giving them to children dressed in school uniforms. The voice over stated:
“But did you know your immune system needs a healthy breakfast every day?”
A picture of the product was shown with a cartoon demonstration of the ingredients in the bottle, The voice over stated:
“New Danone Actimel Plus contains exclusive L.Casei cultures, and now a unique multi-vitamin mix, that helps support the immune system.”
The final scenes showed children and adults, dressed for winter, enjoying the outdoors. The voice over stated:
“So you can enjoy life to the full, happy that your immune system has had a healthy breakfast. Danone Actimel: Breakfast for the immune system.”
On screen text during the advertisement stated:
“Enjoy as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle”
“For healthy breakfast ideas see Danone.ie”
“Vitamins B6, C & D support the normal function of the immune system”
“Breakfast for the Immune System”
The complainant, a medical doctor, challenged the claim that breakfast was required for a healthy immune system as he considered that it was not based on scientific or medical fact.
The advertisers said that they took any complaint of this nature very seriously and would never intend to mislead any member of the general public. As a responsible advertiser they said that they had been very thorough to ensure that all their advertising materials complied with all relevant advertising codes of practice.
The advertisers referenced a number of pieces of research as follows:
“It is well recognised that a well-functioning immune system and a healthy inflammatory response are beneficial physiological effects1,2,3
• “The immune system protects the body from possibly harmful substances by recognising and responding to antigens. Antigens are substances (usually proteins) on the surface of cells, viruses, fungi, or bacteria4. The innate immune system is the first line of defence against invading pathogens and is particularly important in warding off bacterial and viral infections presenting at the mucosal cell surface.
• “Immune system disorders occur when the immune response is inappropriate, excessive, or lacking. An efficient immune response protects against many diseases and disorders4.
• “Numerous studies have confirmed the health benefits associated with eating breakfast and indeed the detrimental effects of skipping breakfast. Breakfast eaters generally consume more daily calories yet are less likely to be overweight5,6. Breakfast as part of a healthy diet and lifestyle can positively impact children’s health and well-being5,6. Evidence suggests that breakfast consumption may improve cognitive function related to memory, test grades, and school attendance5. Children who reported consistently eating breakfast had superior nutritional profiles to those of peers who consistently skipped breakfast. Although children who ate breakfast tended to consume more daily calories, they were less likely to be overweight5. Skipping breakfast can have detrimental effects on the health of adults, including impairing fasting lipids and postprandial insulin sensitivity7.
• “Research also shows that consumption of breakfast is associated with reports of better health, including reduced incidences of upper respiratory tract infections (URTI), therefore linking the importance of breakfast in taking care of the immune system8.
• “One study showed that regular breakfast cereal consumption was associated with lower sub-lingual temperatures in volunteers with URTI8.
• “In another study by the same author, nasal secretion weight was lower in regular breakfast cereal consumers but was not influenced by stress8. These studies suggest that breakfast cereal consumption is associated with reduced illness severity and that this does not reflect stress levels.
• “A further study by the same author showed that skipping breakfast is associated with reports of poorer health and that regular breakfast cereal consumption is associated with better reported health9. The effects of breakfast could not be explained by other health-related behaviours or other aspects of diet.
• “Studies have also found that subjects with healthy lifestyles (breakfast consumption is cited as one aspect of a “healthy lifestyle”) have higher activity levels of natural killer (NK) cells10 and lymphokine-activated killer cells11 than those with unhealthier lifestyles. Natural killer cells and lymphokine-activated killer cells are types of lymphocytes (white blood cells) and components of the innate immune system.”
The advertisers said that Danone Actimel should be enjoyed as part of a healthy breakfast and this was depicted within the advertisement where a family is seen eating other breakfast items such as orange juice and breakfast cereal. They explained that these foods also contained vitamins and minerals such as vitamin C, folate and iron, all of which helped to support the immune system12.
They reiterated that Danone took complaints very seriously, and would never intend to mislead any member of the general public in terms of inaccuracy, ambiguity, exaggeration or omission.
The advertisers said that they had amended the advertisement and the line “But did you know your immune system needs a healthy breakfast every day?” with “so why not start each day by giving your immune system a healthy breakfast?”
1 EFSA Journal 2009; 7(9):1225
2 EFSA Journal 2010; 8(2):1468
3 EFSA Journal 2009; 7(9):1226
4 Goronzy JJ, Weyand CM. The innate and adaptive immune systems. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier;2011:chap 44
5 Rampersaud GC, Pereira MA, Girard BL, Adams J, Metzl JD. Breakfast habits, nutritional status, body weight, and academic performance in children and adolescents. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2005; 105(5): 743-760
6 Dubois L, Girard M, Potvin Kent M, Farmer A, Tatone-Tokuda F. Breakfast skipping is associated with differences in meal patterns, macronutrient intakes and overweight among pre-school children. Public Health Nutr. 2009 Jan;12(1):19-28. doi: 10.1017/S1368980008001894. Epub 2008 Mar 18
7 Benton D, Parker PY. (1998). Breakfast, blood glucose, and cognition. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 67(4):772S-778S.Farshchi HR, Taylor MA, Macdonald IA. Deleterious effects of omitting breakfast on insulin sensitivity and fasting lipid profiles in healthy lean women. Am J Clin Nutr. 2005 Feb;81(2):388-96.
8 Smith, AP. Stress, breakfast cereal consumption and objective signs of upper respiratory tract illnesses. Nutr Neurosci. 2002 Apr;5(2):145-8.
9 Smith, AP. Breakfast cereal consumption and subjective reports of health by young adults. Nutr Neurosci. 2003 Feb;6(1):59-61.
10 Inoeu C et al. Healthy lifestyles are associated with higher lymphokine-activated killer cell activity. Prev Med. 1996 Nov-Dec;25(6):717-24
11 Morimoto K et al. Lifestyles and mental health status are associated with natural killer cell and lymphokine-activated killer cell activities. Sci Total Environ. 2001 Apr 10;270(1-3):3-11
12 COMMISSION REGULATION (EU) No 432/2012 of 16 May 2012 establishing a list of permitted health claims made on foods, other than those referring to the reduction of disease risk and to children’s development and health.
The Complaints Committee considered the detail of the complaint and the advertisers’ response including the fact that the advertisement had been amended.
They noted that the advertisers had forwarded research on the effects of consuming breakfast regularly and three Scientific Opinions from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in relation to Vitamins B6, C and D and their relation to the normal functioning of the immune system. They also noted that although the advertisement had referred to the fact that the product contained “L.Casei cultures”, no substantiation had been forwarded in relation to them.
They noted that the vitamins included in the product had been accepted by the EFSA as having a role in contributing to the normal function of the immune system.
The Committee noted that the other research had shown that there were health benefits associated with eating breakfast, however they had not seen evidence that eating breakfast per se impacted beneficially on the immune system.
The Committee did not consider that the advertisers had substantiated the claim that the “immune system needs a healthy breakfast every day” and found that the advertisement was in breach of Section 8.1 of the Code.
As the original advertisement had been amended no further action in relation to it was required.