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Food supplements: necessary, luxury or health risk?

34/2012, 09.10.2012

14th BfR Consumer Protection Forum held in Berlin-Marienfelde

Food supplements are trendy: consumers buy them in supermarkets, pharmacies and online shops. According to manufacturers, they supply the body with important substances, strengthen performance and can even help prevent diseases. But does it really make sense to take food supplements? Who needs them and who can dispense with them? At the 14th BfR Forum held in Berlin-Marienfelde on 10 and 11 October 2012, questions relating to food supplements, especially their safety, and about consumer behaviour are answered and discussed. Additional themes covered are health-related marketing claims and risks arising from the Internet trade. "Food supplements are generally superfluous for healthy persons who eat a balanced diet", says BfR President Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. Only in specific cases does it make sense to systematically supplement one’s diet with individual nutrients. One example is folic acid in women shortly before and in the first weeks of pregnancy.

Food supplements are products which consist of nutrients or other substances in concentrated from with specific nutritional or physiological effects. They can be vitamins, minerals and trace elements, amino acids and even fibre or plant extracts. Even though food supplements are dispensed in the form of tablets, coated tablets or powders, they are foods rather than pharmaceutical products. They are intended for supplementing the normal diet. As food, they must be safe and must not have any adverse health effects in the form that they are presented.

On the occasion of the event, the BfR provides information on food supplements, especially their safety and on consumer behaviour. Further themes covered include the health-related marketing claims and risks associated with the Internet-based trade of food supplements. By providing information on the benefits and risks of food supplements for different user groups and on target group-oriented risk communication, the BfR aims to give both interested health professionals and consumers a more differentiated view of food supplements.

The first day focuses on information about the legal framework for food supplements and their use in the population. Health-related marketing claims and the safety of food supplements are discussed.

Target group-specific uses of food supplements taking into account plant substances, special features of food supplements for athletes, pregnant and breastfeeding women and for consumers over the age of 60 are other themes covered on the first day.

The second day concentrates on consumer behaviour and the motives behind the use of food supplements. Various stakeholders will explain their position on the question whether taking food supplements can, in view of the typical modern lifestyle and eating habits, make a significant contribution to preserving physical performance and to what extent potential health risks can be communicated in a way that members of the target group understand.

The programme and other information can be found under “Events” on the website of the BfR.

About the BfR

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientific institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food, Agriculture and Consumer Protection (BMELV). It advises the Federal Government and Federal Laender on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

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