Immune boosting, diabetes prevention, anti-ageing claims under fire in Japan

By Tingmin Koe

- Last updated on GMT

Health foods making anti-ageing claims have been warned by Japan's CAA to change the claims. ©Getty Images
Health foods making anti-ageing claims have been warned by Japan's CAA to change the claims. ©Getty Images

Related tags Immunity Diabetes anti-ageing

A range of food and supplement products that claim to boost the immune system, prevent diabetes and ageing has come under the attention of the Japanese authorities.

Between October and December last year, a total of 231 products sold online were caught for making exaggerated and/or false health claims, Japan’s Consumer Affairs Agency (CAA) said. 

Most of these products – 142 of them – were health foods that came in the form of capsules, tablets, and granules etc.

These products were said to have made claims ranging from preventing diabetes, lifestyle-related diseases, osteoporosis, to anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-ageing, breast augmentation, and whitening. 

Making unpermitted claims is in violation of the Health Promotion Law and the CAA has ordered the 228 businesses involved to change their product claims.

The CAA revealed that the enforcement was conducted via an internet search, using keywords such as 1) preventing or treating diseases such as diabetes, hypertension, osteoporosis, influenza, 2) promoting or strengthening immunity, and 3) those that claim to beautify the body.

Aside from health foods, 46 processed foods, such as processed agriculture, livestock, and fishery products were caught for making the above claims.

Some of these products also claimed to prevent cancer, heart diseases, dementia, and reduce obesity.

The remaining products caught for making fraudulent claims were 36 beverage products, including tea, coffee, cocoa, alcoholic drinks, and seven fresh food products.

In Japan, health foods and beverages may make health claims under the Foods with Function Claims (FFCs)​, Food with Nutrient Function Claims (FNFC), and Foods for Specified Health Uses (FOSHU) systems. 

Of which, FOSHU products require prior approved by the commissioner of CAA, while FFCs can be labelled at the discretion of individual businesses. The government does not evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the latter, although businesses are required to submit relevant data – which is then disclosed on CAA’s website for public access. 

More products making fake claims

The number of products making fraudulent claims last year was greater than that of 2020.

Between last April and December, the CAA had ordered 643 products to change their claims, while only 473 were required to do so in the whole of 2020.

The CAA said that all businesses which had received its orders have complied and changed their claims.

According to CAA’s annual report​ for year 2021, more consumers have consulted the agency on matters related to health foods.

For instance, the number of consultations coming from the elderly regarding health food had reached 8,389 in 2020, up from 5,272 in 2018. 

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