Judith Haudum

Reality Check: Health Advertisements in Corona Times

It's almost impossible to escape unless you avoid all forms of media: advertising for products claiming to strengthen our immune systems. Last night, I decided to spend a few minutes flipping through several TV channels and noting which commercials were being shown. Observing the market— that's also part of the job of us nutrition experts. I wanted to check:

  • How many of the commercials promote products that allegedly strengthen the immune system?
  • How many of them fall into the category of dietary supplements?

I did this across TV channels in the following countries: Austria, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, United Kingdom.

91% of all advertisements related to nutrition in the broadest sense were for dietary supplements. 88% of the foods shown were enriched with individual nutrients.

In those nearly 30 minutes, I saw about 52 commercials. Most of these ads were related to nutrition and health. The message is clear: we need a strong immune system right now to reduce the risk of illness, i.e., infection with Covid-19. Interestingly, but not surprisingly, most of the advertisements promoted dietary supplements. Products that provide us with nutrients proven to be important for our immune defenses are currently at the forefront.

A very interesting observation concerns the foods that were shown: from dairy products (e.g., yogurts) to cereals to convenient foods—many of the products featured were enriched with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants.

What may not seem important at first becomes more apparent when you think about it for a few minutes: it is well-documented that a high intake of individual nutrients can lead to poisoning or be harmful. Currently, we all want to stay healthy and supply our bodies with nutrients that strengthen our immune system. For this reason, many people buy dietary supplements—to increase the intake of antioxidants and other nutrients that support our immune system. However, when considering the high percentage of enriched foods and also adding those that already have very high concentrations of various nutrients on their own—why do we then need a dietary supplement? Isn't it better to check what you have at your breakfast table at home? How many products are already enriched before getting additional supplements? Be smart, take a few minutes, and see what you have in the kitchen. Perhaps you are already adequately supplied and don't need additional supplements. Remember: a high intake of individual nutrients can be harmful. Why take the risk?

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