Monday, August 6, 2012

Misrepresenting the Facts

   I have no fondness for the product 5 Hour Energy.  I don't like that it is a caffeine supplement, that it is marketed mercilessly, and that its ads are misleading and deceptive.
   To be clear and repetitive, I understand that there are benefits to caffeine intake and I regularly consume two or more cups of coffee a day.  The research that supports the benefits of caffeine do so with regard to coffee with a dose response and an upper limit.  There is no scientific evidence to support a health benefit of energy drinks or caffeine supplements.  There is concern over misuse of these 'supplements,' especially in our youth.  It is possible that they cause harm in excess and in combination with other substances and activities..
Now back to this specific product.
   There is a commercial currently airing that suggests an endorsement from a great number of doctors.  The spokesperson (in a white coat) is standing near a desk with a huge stack of papers.  She says and the on screen text emphasizes that they contacted 3000 physicians.  They say that doctors recommend their product.  Here is what the obtuse, fine print says... obtuse because it is not easy to understand.. maybe on purpose.  
   It appears that they sent a survey to some doctors and received 503 responses - but it is not clear if they only sent it to 503 or 503 out of XX number responded.  That is a very important missing piece of information (as is where the doctors are practicing medicine (i.e. in the world); if they are seeing patients, how long they have been doing so; what the average age of the doctor who responded,  etc).  The fine print also says that 2500 docs (or their offices) were approached by sales staff and asked to read some information.  The text implies that 2500 people responded to the request which would be a nearly unheard of 100% response rate.  Again, who WERE those people and WHERE are they located.  Maybe they are all in one small part of the world, for example - or one state in the US or one region.  The ad claims a total sample of 3000 - so lets go with that as the actual resonses.
    It then says (the fine print not the voice over), 73% of the doctors 'would recommend a low calorie energy supplement to healthy patients ALREADY taking an energy supplement.' Being gracious, that means 2190 docs said this.  Of those, 1200 would specifically recommend low calorie 5 Hour Energy to their patients who ALREADY take a supplement and are healthy.  All told, less than 50%  of the doctors would actually recommend the product.  
   OF course I emailed them and asked for information on their actual sample of doctors... we should not hold our breath on that one.  However, I reminded them that if they were going to present this as if it were a valid survey then it was customary to share these details.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey! Funny, last time I saw that commercial, I tried to read the fine print while it was on the screen, and I saw just a portion of that ... the part about the patients "already taking an energy supplement." I'm glad I have you to get all the info for me!
Lee Ann

Deirdre Dingman, MPH, CTTS, CHES, PAPHS said...

and may i point out that this product is now the attention of the FDA for possible fatal complications!