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False claims on supplements marketed to Youth

Be aware of products like “FitGen” – advertised as “Youth performance nutrition parents can trust” – that make themselves guilty of using false claims, such as being registered with the “Drug Free Association” or “Approved / Certified by WADA”. No anti-doping authority (locally or abroad), including the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the SA Institute for Drug-Free Sport (SAIDS) registers, endorse or promote the use of specific supplement brands, products, or supplement-use in general. Quite the contrary.
This is due to the inherent risks of containing harmful and/or banned substances versus the limited (or no) proven benefits (amidst many false claims). One of the most concerning trends is for supplements to contain pharmaceutical-grade ingredients such as steroids and stimulants, unapproved drugs or other harmful ingredients that may or may not be listed on the label, or listed under an alias, or have incorrect dosages of ingredients that may exceed upper safety limits.
Unlike scheduled medicines, any product currently sold under the “nutritional supplement” umbrella does not need to undergo the rigorous testing needed to prove that the formulation is indeed effective OR safe (i.e. provide credible proof for its claims), nor to prove that the ingredients and dosages on the label are accurate, appropriate and safe for the consumer that it is marketed towards e.g. for youth or youth athletes in particular.  The reality is that the majority of supplements on the market have not been sufficiently tested or scrutinised by an independent health authority, such as the Medicines Control Council or SA Health Products Regulatory Authority. Keep this in mind when next you read claims such as “scientifically tested”, “proven”, “healthy”, “superior”, “drug-free” etc.
Be cautious when you see advertising such as: “supplements specially designed for youth”, that “…supplements are a must for young athletes”, that “a normal diet just cannot supply enough”, and exaggerated claims such as “…the most advanced product ever developed”. These claims not only have no scientific grounds, but in fact contradicts evidence-based consensus on the proven value of a “food focused” nutritional approach for youth as best support for optimal health, growth and development and sporting performance (over the short- and long-term).  Such unethical marketing messages also pose a deeper concern over the detrimental impact on kids’ perceptions about the value (and focus) of optimising nutrition and training, versus the ‘false’ value (and focus) being placed on the need for supplements, pills and potions to be your best. As shown by social science research, this could also feed the “win at all costs” mentality which degrades the values of true sportmanship, such as fair play, respect, preserving health and having fun.  The doping behaviour research has also identified supplement-use at a young age as a predictor of doping behaviour in future. 
As such, parents should note that SAIDS supports the views of leading health and sport authorities from around the world (including the IOC) that deems it inappropriate and unethical for active and competitive adolescent athletes to be encouraged to consume dietary supplements for performance-enhancement.
Particularly in youth, a dietary supplement should only be considered (for as short duration as possible) to correct a clinically diagnosed dietary deficiency and taken under appropriate health professional guidance e.g. Registered Dietitian, who can address and optimise dietary intake at the same time.  A Dietitian can also help do a risk vs. benefit analysis and help identify low-risk products if needed.
Read more about this and related topics in our “Supplements under the Spotlight” leaflet, the “Parents Guide to Clean Sport” and the “Position Stand on Sports Nutrition for Adolescent Athletes” (and more youth-specific resources) available in our Education Material Library