On May 19, HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel aired a segment titled “In Harm’s Way.” In the segment, Soledad O’Brien reported on the deaths of several members of the U.S. military tied to dietary supplements sold at their bases—and ties those deaths to Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and his ongoing efforts to limit the supplement industry from being regulated.
“Few of these troops realize the potential risks (posed by supplements) but our research suggests they can be severe,” O’Brien said. “Using open records requests and reviewing military medical studies, ‘Real Sports’ found hundreds of serious military health problems associated with supplements … health problems that in some cases could have jeopardized missions.”
In response to the Real Sports segment, Sen. Hatch’s office, the American Herbal Products Association (AHPA), United Natural Products Alliance (UNPA) and the Council of Responsible Nutrition (CRN) released the following statements:
“Our office sought to discuss with HBO’s ‘Real Sports’ the nature of the supplement industry and Sen. Hatch’s extensive efforts, over the course of many years, to ensure its effective regulation. Unfortunately, the producers were focused on exploiting a tragedy and telling a pre-crafted story, even if mostly inaccurate,” said Sen. Hatch’s office in a statement to The Salt Lake Tribune. “Contrary to erroneous claims, dietary supplements are in fact regulated and subject to enforcement. Despite our encouragement, ‘Real Sports’ failed to speak to any FDA (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) regulators, refused to interview industry representatives who work on product safety, and ignored studies by the Department of Defense that complicate HBO’s pre-determined narrative.”
“The Dietary Supplement Health Education Act (DSHEA) specifically acknowledges that improving the health of all United States citizens ranks at the top of the national priorities of the Federal Government and provides the Food and Drug Administration with ample authority to protect consumers—including our military personnel – from any products for which there is a significant or unreasonable risk,” said AHPA President Michael McGuffin. “To suggest otherwise represents a complete misunderstanding of this law.
“Also, the Real Sports segment seems to imply that inappropriate industry influence was behind the adoption of this law, which has provided informed access to a wide range of safe supplements for over 20 years,” McGuffin continued. “In fact, it was the nearly 50 percent of Americans who regularly consumed dietary supplements prior to the adoption of this law in 1994 who demanded the U.S. Congress protect their unencumbered health care choice to use these products.”
“Millions of consumers use dietary supplements daily and do so safely and with great benefit,” added UNPA President Loren Israelsen. “This is in large part due to the efforts of Sen. Hatch, who has tirelessly worked to assure continued access to safe and beneficial products. Based on his record, we are surprised and disappointed that HBO missed the mark so badly.
“Regrettably, HBO has chosen to misinform its viewers on the regulation and safety record of supplements,” he continued. “And while we agree that rogue players and products do exist, this is not because of DSHEA or Sen. Hatch, who has consistently worked to preserve the rights of consumers to access safe dietary supplements.”
“More than two thirds of American adults—including those in the military—take dietary supplements every year, and the overwhelming majority do so safely,” stated Steve Mister, president and CEO of CRN. “We understand those in the military, in particular, need to be in the best physical shape possible to withstand the stress and rigor of defending our country, and numerous dietary supplements can help maintain and improve good health. However, we share the concerns raised by HBO’s segment last night about stimulant ingredients like DMAA, and CRN has expressed support for FDA’s position that DMAA and similar ingredients are illegal because they lack adequate evidence of safety and present unreasonable health risks.
“On the other hand, we are disappointed that HBO ignored our requests to provide perspective from the mainstream, responsible dietary supplement industry as we would have confirmed our position that the products the segment focused on are being illegally marketed as dietary supplements in violation of the requirements for new ingredients,” he continued. “Further, we would have provided accurate information and a more balanced perspective of the numerous provisions in the law, added with the passage of DSHEA and beyond, that have given FDA more authority than it previously had to remove unsafe products from the market and ample tools to enforce the law. To that end, we are concerned that FDA has not always acted as swiftly as appropriate to remove from the market these kinds of questionable products, and we continue to urge for further resources, financial and otherwise, for FDA to more fully enforce the law.”