The nutritional supplements (nutraceuticals) sector is generally encumbered with statutory laws in two extremes. Notably, those laws that govern medicines and those laws that govern foods. Legislation (statutory laws) is law promulgated by a legislature or a governing body. Regulations on the other hand are measures to control human or societal behaviour by rules or restrictions. Regulations, can take the form of legal restrictions or self-regulation. As such, medicine and food production, processing, distribution, retail, packaging and labelling in general is a multifaceted industry often governed by several laws, regulations, codes of practice and guidance, in different countries. This makes this a complex subject.
The annual retail sales of the nutritional supplement industry in the United States of America increased from $8.8 billion in 1994 to $18.8 billion in 2003, an increase of 115% of which a sizable proportion was spent on “sports supplements” [1, 2]. The exponential increase in supplement sales can be attributed to aggressive marketing by manufacturers, rather than the development of more effective nutritional supplements [3, 4]. As a result of the complex legislation governing supplements in most countries, the companies can make unsubstantiated claims about the efficacy of the supplement [5, 6]. Furthermore, the accuracy of the labelling often goes unchallenged, therefore any effects of the supplement may be due to contaminants or adulterants in these products not reflected on the label [7–13]. Contamination may be defined as divergence from the information provided on the label. It may occur for various reasons, ranging from accidental to incidental .
The way in which the supplement industry is managed, is in stark contrast to the drug industry, which has strict legislation and control. Divergence between food and drug laws has generated “grey” areas with regard to the “voluntary” declaration of “all” content in a specific nutritional supplement product, making the product manufacture chain difficult to deal with or even subject to appropriate law enforcement . Although some Consumer Protection and Anti-Doping Agencies have requested stricter report requirements for supplement manufacturers and tougher penalties for repeat offenders, legislation remains unchanged [11, 15, 16].
Therefore the aim of this study was to determine how consumers of nutritional supplement products acquire information to assist their purchasing decisions [17–23]. People between the age of 19–40 years, who were either moderately physically active or competitive were asked to complete a self-administered questionnaire. They were questioned about the container label information and information other than container labelling sources, which influenced their purchasing decisions for nutritional supplements. It was intended that this information would assist in providing an evidence-based solution to the problem of poorly regulated labels on nutritional supplements.