A company advertising a pill that “will ‘undo’ 5g of fat and 210g of carbs” must remove advertisements for the product and publish a retraction on its website, a review panel has ruled.
The ruling against the “undoit pill” by the complaints resolution panel of the Therapeutic Goods Administration follows a complaint by Ken Harvey, an Adjunct Associate Professor in the School of Public Health at La Trobe University. Professor Harvey says he is particularly concerned about “complementary medicines and weight loss products that tap into Australia’s problem with obesity”.
According to claims that appeared on undoit.com.au, the undoit pill “lets you have the cake without the calories. The snack without the guilt. The taste without the tummy”. The pill “binds the fat and carbs from your snack while it’s still in your stomach and stops them from being absorbed.”
“Snack undone! Like you never ate it!” the website proclaimed. One pill was supposedly enough to undo a biscuit, two a tub of ice cream, three a fatty dessert, and five a Big Mac and fries, it said.
The same claims continue to appear on the website, but they are now advertising a product with a “new formulation” called “undoit plus”.
The company promoting the product, undoit.com.au Pty Ltd, argued that it had only made two basic claims about the pill – that it prevented absorption of fat and carbohydrates, and that it prevented weight gain. Both claims were supported by evidence, it told the panel.
But the panel said “there was no evidence that either ingredient could block all of the fat or carbohydrate content from any given meal (as opposed to blocking some proportion of the fat or carbohydrate content) … [and] there was no clear evidence, other than a simple extrapolation made by the advertiser, to support the specific numeric claims in the advertisement, such as ‘each pill undoes 210g of carbs’.”
The director of undoit.com.au Pty Ltd, Michael Romm, did not immediately return a call for comment. Mr Romm appeared on an episode of Today Tonight last December to promote the hangover cure “security feel better”, a tonic that claims to help the liver break down toxins.
Earlier this year, he reportedly claimed that publicity over the complaint by Professor Harvey boosted the popularity of the pill to such an extent that it sold out nationwide in two days.
Professor Harvey said that “part of the problem we’ve got is that we have a dysfunctional regulatory system for complementary medicines … basically it’s a trust-based system in which you put your hand on your heart and tick a few boxes.
“There’s absolutely no check on that. It’s a web-based internet form – you pay your money and away you go. And the only redress is if the Therapeutic Goods Administration does occasional targeted or random post-marketing reviews, or if someone puts in a complaint.”
Last year, in an audit of the Department of Health and Ageing, the Australian National Audit Office noted that as many as 90% of complementary medicines reviewed were found to be non‐compliant with regulatory requirements.