An alarming 74% reported that they are concerned if the advertised or promised benefits of vitamins/supplements are not backed by trustworthy research when choosing the right vitamin or supplement.
The online survey was conducted by sampling service Lucid. It included a nationally representative sample of 1,500 Americans 18 years of age and older, who live in the United States and take a vitamin or supplement at least 2-3 times a week.
Dr. Michael Smith, director of education at Life Extension, said the reason for the low consumer confidence is multifactorial, with one big reason being the lack of support from conventional doctors. “Most allopathic doctors dismiss supplements (other than a multi-vitamin) and this translates into consumer distrust.”
Observers say how products are marketed and produced can add to the confusion. One reason for mistrust could be the large number of fake online reviews. Marketing Land, a survey firm not involved in Life Extension's study, found that fake reviews actually outnumber real ones. In fact, they report that 64% of Amazon reviews for supplements are made up.
“Unfortunately many highly rated vitamins and supplements people buy online come from white-labeled production farms that are manufactured in countries that don't test things the same way we do here in the USA,” explained reputation technologist Curtis Boyd, who is the founder of objection.co. “They slap their own labels on them and advertise them as "organic" or however they want to sell it.”
Boyd added that he believes white labeled products have a much higher percentage of fake reviews when compared to original manufacturers because white-labeled products have higher profit margins and can afford to spend more on advertising, pay-per-clicks, and fake reviews.
While the coronavirus pandemic will have a profoundly negative impact on a number of fronts, it has also provided a level of legitimacy to many skeptical of dietary supplements. With no vaccine or treatment for the virus, people are seeking out natural remedies such as vitamin C, elderberry, zinc, and other ingredients that offer immune support.
The survey took place between January 28th and February 4th, 2020, pre-pandemic. When asked if he thought the results would be any different if the survey was conducted during the pandemic, Smith said yes.
“The pandemic was a wake-up call that conventional medicine may not have immediate solutions. The news reports were/are clear - no immediate treatment, no immediate vaccine. I believe this drives consumers to look for alternative solutions.”
Of course there are a few bad actors who are looking to cash in on the crisis. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission sent out dozens of warning letters to marketers who made unsubstantiated health claims that their products can treat or cure COVID-19.
Smith said while the letters certainly don’t boost consumer trust, “Most consumers never see or are even aware of such oversight. This is not good. We need to educate consumers that the FDA does in fact regulate and warn companies who do not follow basics FDA/FTC guidelines and GMP standards for manufacturing products. This is an opportunity for high quality companies like Life Extension to showcase their above standard processes for disseminating information and manufacturing products.”
As of Monday, the FTC reported that there have been a total of 67,062 complaints, resulting in $48.71 million in total fraud loss.
Additional survey highlights
- 27% of Americans don’t feel confident they’re taking the right vitamins and supplements for their health needs and goals
- While nearly all supplement users (92%) believe that ingredients are important when purchasing a vitamin, 42% don’t research the ingredients when considering which product to choose
- 68% are concerned they’re spending money on vitamins/supplements that won't work
- 62% of supplement users are concerned they will experience negative side effects if they take the wrong supplement
- Furthermore, more than a quarter (26%) don’t feel confident they’re taking the right dosage
Further findings and details can be found here.
So is it on the industry to fix this knowledge gap and better educate consumers, or should consumers take a more proactive approach?
“Both,” said Smith. “Life Extension takes education very seriously – education about how nutrients work, best lifestyles, and quality control mechanisms – all grounded in rigorous research and copiously referenced. But consumers need to play a role as well. The average consumer looking for a new cell phone spends hours researching benefits and features. This needs to spill over into purchasing supplements.”