Apr. 9th, 2007

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Kelly Burke, Consumer Affairs Reporter
March 22, 2007

Ribena vitamin claim misleading

AFTER 55 years of telling porkies, Ribena has finally sent itself to the naughty corner. But the surprise mea culpa may not save the drink's maker - and the world's second-largest pharmaceutical company - from receiving a thorough caning in a New Zealand court next week.

Generations of Australian and New Zealand children have been raised on Ribena, because that nice lady on telly told them the blackcurrants in the purple stuff contained four times the vitamin C of oranges.

But Ribena's manufacturer, the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, has in effect dobbed itself in to the national competition watchdog for "allegedly misleading representations" and has already undertaken to remove all references to vitamin C on its product's label.

In a statement released by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission yesterday, the chairman, Graeme Samuel, emphasised that GlaxoSmithKline had "self-reported the discrepancies".

A matching statement by the company also emphasised the voluntary nature of its confession. The company omitted to include, however, the impetus behind its earnest and apparently voluntary bid to set the record straight.

The commission's equivalent across the Tasman, the New Zealand Commerce Commission, has been investigating GlaxoSmithKline for more than a year, and next Tuesday the company will face more than 80 charges in the Auckland District Court of allegedly making misleading representations involving Ribena.

The Herald understand the charges relate to vitamin C claims made on the packaging of Ribena ready-to-drink cartons and to vitamin C claims made in television advertising and packaging for its syrup, which has been on the market for more than five decades.

GlaxoSmithKline told the Herald late yesterday that the New Zealand investigation had been "a trigger" in its decision to approach the consumer commission here.

So had the multinational British-based pharmaceutical company - which turned a profit of more than $17 billion in the last financial year - been "allegedly misleading" its customers for the past five decades?

Absolutely not, a spokesperson said in a written statement forwarded to the Herald.

"Weight for weight, the 'four times' statement is factually correct but we accept that there is a potential for confusion among consumers and have taken the action to remove that claim."

In January, the Herald reported an analysis of popular children's snack foods and beverages by the independent consumer watchdog Choice, which found that Ribena consisted of little more than sugar and water. Its essential ingredient - blackcurrants - made up just 5 per cent of content, the study found, and was a processed product made from concentrate.

"For years, manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline has led Australian parents to believe Ribena fruit drink was a healthy choice for kids because of its vitamin C content," said Choice's senior food policy officer, Clare Hughes.

"This is a good example of food marketing manipulating busy parents who want to provide the best for their kids."
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Bellinda Kontominas, Medical Reporter
February 23, 2007

WE MAY have produced such fine athletic specimens as Cathy Freeman, Ian Thorpe and Brett Lee, but it seems Australia has also produced a nation of fatties.

The dubious honour has been handed down by the Forbes organisation, which released its list of the fattest countries based on body mass index, a measure of weight relative to height.

Australia weighed in at 21st, with almost 70 per cent of the population considered overweight or obese, based on recent estimates from the World Health Organisation.

The WHO defines overweight as a body mass index greater than or equal to 25 and obese greater than or equal to 30.

Of the top 10 countries on the list, eight were from the South Pacific, with Nauru tipping the scales in first position with 94 per cent of its adult population overweight.

The US was ninth with 74 per cent overweight and Britain was 28th with almost 64 per cent of its population overweight.

There are 1.6 billion overweight adults in the world, according to the WHO, which projects the number will grow by 40 per cent in the next 10 years.

Dr Michael Booth, a senior research fellow at the National Health and Medical Research Council, said there was no doubt obesity had become a world-wide trend.

"Just because other countries are doing just as badly as us doesn't mean we shouldn't be very worried about it," he said. "It just means that we are all going to be sick and die a lot earlier together."

Dr Booth said Australia's rich food supply, "relatively unregulated advertising environment" and love of gadgets and machinery that encourage sedentary behaviour had contributed to the obesity epidemic.

The director of the Melbourne-based International Diabetes Institute, Professor Paul Zimmet, said obesity led to Type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, arthritis and sleep disorders which cost the country billions of dollars each year.

"The obesity epidemic has the potential to cripple entire health budgets if we don't do something about it now," he said.

Experts were divided on the accuracy of using body mass index to measure weight among the world's population.

Dr Booth said the index was an adequate measure for large population studies, however Dr Louise Hardy, a researcher at the NSW Centre for Overweight and Obesity at the University of Sydney, said using the body mass index was based on a European body type and not accurate for other builds.
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Louise Hall
April 8, 2007

An Australian boy is leading the global fight against Type 1 diabetes. Connor Ahles, 11, is the first person in the world to be vaccinated in an ambitious project which aims to eradicate the deadly condition in children and teenagers.

The $5 million trial will determine if insulin delivered as a nose spray will prevent or delay the onset of Type 1 diabetes in people genetically disposed to developing the condition.

Developed by researchers at the Diabetes Vaccine Development Centre (DVDC) at the University of Melbourne, the vaccine stops the immune system from attacking the pancreas cells that produce insulin, thereby allowing the body to produce its own insulin.

Initially, 13,000 people aged between four and 30 with a close blood relative with Type 1 diabetes will be part of the trial. Of those, 2 per cent - or 268 people - will be considered to be at high enough risk to receive the vaccine due to the presence of antibodies linked to the development of diabetes in their blood.

DVDC chief executive officer David Irving said if the trial was successful, the vaccine could be available worldwide within the next five to 10 years. About one in every 700 Australian children has Type 1 - or juvenile - diabetes, for which there is no cure. Sufferers must regularly inject insulin and monitor their blood sugar levels. "A world without Type 1 diabetes is what we imagine," Mr Irving said.

Trial participants will self-administer the nasal spray every day for a week and then every week for 12 months and be monitored for four years.

Connor, from Melbourne, has an aunt with Type 1 diabetes, and tests showed he was at very high risk of developing the condition. Connor's mother, Janine, said: "I see it as an opportunity. If he gets sick, it won't be as traumatic as it is for people who aren't prepared."

Royal North Shore Hospital is the first active trial centre in NSW. Those interested in joining the trial should call 1300 138 712.

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