Is European legislation really protecting consumers?
Obesity is one of the most pressing and serious public health issues we currently face. It is not an easy condition to tackle and figures continue to rise at an alarming rate; overcoming obesity requires hard work, dedication and a complete overhaul of one’s lifestyle, which, for many, seems insurmountable. This is where weight loss programmes like Total Diet Replacements (TDRs) come in: they provide a safe and effective way to lose weight and have proven immensely successful over the years.
Therefore, it is surprising the European Commission is considering legislation—under the umbrella of the Foods for Specific Groups Regulation (EU 609/2013)—which contains drastic and unwelcome proposals. The compositional criteria proposed under this planned law would make TDRs very difficult to develop, substantially more expensive for consumers, taste unpleasant and liable to turn rancid very quickly—essentially wiping them from the market.
This makes very little sense. TDRs have helped tens of thousands of people across the continent lose weight safely and successfully—a weight loss that has been shown to be maintainable. They are one of the only regulated weight loss programmes on the market and have been carefully designed to ensure they comprise compositionally sounds food products that provide 100 percent of recommended dietary allowances. They are the only nutritionally balanced weight loss solution which has been safely available in the EU for over 30 years. If these products are removed from the market, the public will have very little choice but to turn to other non-regulated diets and dangerous alternatives, such as fad diets or illegal slimming pills.
These alternatives are a lot more widely available than one would assume and can result in lasting damage. In 2015 alone, the UK Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Agency (MHRA) seized more than 240,000 doses of pills claiming to be for weight loss, which turned out to contain previously banned medicines associated with increased risks of heart attacks and strokes. Tragic news stories have revealed the extent of the damage suffered by those desperate individuals from these pills—everything from liver damage to death—and there is a very real risk that, in the absence of TDRs, the number of these horrific incidences might rise.
The main objective of the Food for Specific Groups regulation is to enhance consumer safety—but whether this always translates into reality is questionable. Regulation is welcome, but needs to make sense. It is crucial these proposed rules are reconsidered with the safety of the European public at the forefront.
Professor Anthony Leeds is the Medical Director of the European Very Low Calorie Diet Industry Group.