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Industry must step up as alternative to America's 'diseasification'

By Clarisse Douaud in Anaheim , 09-Mar-2007

The dietary supplement industry needs to push to get its message heard by the public and medical practice to counteract pharma companies setting new disease definitions and making more people think they need medication, a Nutracon speaker told attendees yesterday.

Physician and alternative medicine veteran Dr. Julian Whitaker, who runs the Whitaker Wellness Institute in Newport Beach, California, pitted mainstream medical practice and the pharmaceutical industry against the potential of the dietary supplement industry to act preventatively. He said the medical establishment sets the definitions of disease so that more and more people fall within diseased ranks and need to be medicated. "You create the conditions, you sell the conditions…," United Natural Products Alliance executive director Loren Israelsen said in his introductory comments. "Whoever defines these terms is likely to win the game." So far, pharmaceutical companies and their political clout are winning the game, while the public and the dietary supplement industry lose, according to Whitaker. "We are not being proactive enough as a group in informing the public," warned Whitaker. Big pharma's message gets out to the public and gets heard much more frequently than that of the dietary supplement industry, he said, and harsh treatments (which Whitaker controversially referred to as "placebos") prevail. "We are in what I consider the darkest ages of medicine…" said Whitaker. "The problem we face with using dangerous placebos is that they are bolstered by economic support." Whitaker cited that in 2004, the US spent $1.9mn on national health care expenditure and this figure is set to double over the course of the next decade. Despite this colossal investment, Americans rank 22nd out of 23 countries in terms of their health. "In order to get people to take these drugs, they have to create fear," said Whitaker, pointing-out that pharmaceutical companies spend $4bn yearly on direct-to-consumer marketing in the US The only other developed country that permits such a practice is New Zealand. Whitaker emphasized that he is not against medical advancements and technology, but rather a more holistic view of what patients and the public needs. "The future will be determined by how effectively we inform the public of the value of our products." Whitaker said companies need to be releasing press releases weekly to mainstream media, and not only responding to crises as they arise. We now know that politicians act attack the supplement industry along two lines of argument, said Whitaker: firstly, that vitamins and minerals are dangerous; secondly, that vitamins and minerals are not regulated. "We should train our defense to withstand this," said Whitaker. "Therefore you don't have to sit back and wait." Trade associations are already gearing their activities with this goal in mind. For instance in 2006, the CRN announced its intention to build a multimillion dollar industry-wide project to counter a proliferation of bad news on the industry. Similarly, the Dietary Supplement Education Alliance (DSEA), an industry coalition, recently announced a paid advertising campaign aimed at building consumer confidence in dietary supplements. The Just Like Me campaign will be featured in television and radio spots.

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