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Consumer News

Consumers Grade Health Products On Leanwashing Index

By Paula Ebben, WBZ-TV
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Award-winning journalist Paula Ebben co-anchors WBZ-TV News at 5PM...
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BOSTON (CBS) – Most people are trying to eat healthier, and more products than ever are promising to help them do just that.

The challenge is figuring out which claims are real, and which ones are hype.

It seems like every item promises to be organic, all natural, or full of fiber.

Consumer advocates like Kevin Tuerff believe shoppers are often getting played. “They’re relying on these companies and what’s on the label and what’s on the TV ad, and they believe it to be true and often it’s not. That’s what we call leanwashing and it’s wrong.”

Tuerff created the “Leanwashing Index” so consumers can help one another sort through the marketing clutter. It’s similar to the “Greenwashing Index” he developed to call attention to bogus environmental claims.

Consumers can upload TV ads for food products which make health claims onto www.leanwashingindex.com. “There are 5-6 different questions that you rank and it comes up with an overall score. In this case, it is like playing golf; the lower the score the better,” explained Tuerff.

For example, the Weight Watcher ads with Jennifer Hudson score pretty well in terms of making truthful claims. Those about a new brand of cookie which is vitamin fortified pretty much flunks.

The scores are all generated by users, not experts. The goal is to empower consumers and get them to spread the word on social media.

It was that type of movement which prompted many stores to stop selling “Pink Slime” in ground beef.

Right now the federal government allows food manufacturers to say pretty much anything they want about their product. Edgar Dworsky of www.consumerworld.org explained, “The Food and Drug Administration has some regulations, but it’s really a patchwork. For example, they have rules about low sodium and low fat, but they don’t have rules about saying all natural or organic.”

Tuerff believes those advertising standards put shoppers at a disadvantage. “You believe this is fortified with vitamins or this is all natural and it’s really not, it’s really a type of fraud,” he added.

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