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Consumers Satisfied with Supplements, Need More Information, Survey Says

A recent survey conducted for the recently formed Dietary Supplement Education Alliance (DSEA) shows that nearly 60 percent of adult Americans take dietary supplements regularly and 95 percent of supplement users are satisfied with the vitamins, minerals, herbs, and specialty supplements they use.

The results were announced at a DSEA press conference in New York on July 30. The Dietary Supplement Barometer Survey tracked American attitudes and beliefs about a range of supplements. Conducted from June 28 through July 1, 2001 by Harris Interactive, the national poll of 1,027 Americans aged 18 and older examined the extent to which consumers use dietary supplements and their reasons why. Moreover, the survey quizzed the knowledge level of respondents about supplementation, finding that while Americans regularly incorporate supplements into their healthcare regimens, many could use more information about the benefits and responsible usage of these products.

According to the survey, six in ten adult Americans (59 percent) report taking dietary supplements and 23 percent regularly use herbs and specialty supplements. Consumers use supplements for these specific reasons: to feel better (72 percent), to help prevent illness (67 percent), to help get better when sick (51 percent), to live longer (50 percent), to build strength and muscle (37 percent) and for weight management (12 percent). At the same time, some Americans report taking supplements for a specific health reason (36 percent) or for sports nutrition (24 percent). In addition, a third of adults (33 percent) say that they take supplements on the advice of their doctor.

Besides these specific reasons, the survey also finds that many Americans (55 percent) believe that some supplements offer benefits comparable to those of drugs but with fewer side effects. Not surprisingly then, the survey finds a high degree of consumer satisfaction with the supplements they are taking.

Despite this good news, the survey also revealed some areas where more education is needed: when quizzed about some common supplements, many Americans fail the test. According to the poll, the majority of consumers (58 percent) view calcium as most important for women after menopause when actually the mineral is needed throughout life. Further, many (41 percent) don't know that taking iron supplements increases the production of red blood cells and is not a way to get more energy. One-fifth (21 percent) are unaware that it often takes several weeks for a supplement to produce a desired effect.

In addition, the Harris poll points to the need for intensified public education about heeding dosage recommendations and interaction warnings. Compared with 91 percent of consumers who say it is necessary to follow dosage guidelines for prescription drugs, the survey found a drop of 20 percent (71 percent) in concern when taking dietary supplements. Compounding the problem, the survey found that many consumers are not talking to their doctors about their supplement use. While 92 percent of adults say they consult their doctors about taking prescription drugs, just half report discussing use of over-the-counter drugs (51 percent) and dietary supplements (49 percent) with their physicians.

"If there is one message that consumers need to hear it is that dietary supplements are very safe when taken as directed. But that means following the information on the label and learning about possible interactions with prescription drugs," said James LaValle, R.Ph., of the Central States College of Naturopathic Medicine and Executive Director of the Living Institute.

In their campaign to educate consumers and media about dietary supplements, DSEA and the Natural Marketing Institute (NMI) also announced the launch of the Dietary Supplement Information Bureau, a repository for science-based information about all aspects of supplementation. The most important feature is its new website aimed at providing science-based facts and statistical information about dietary supplements. Consumers, health professionals, educators, policymakers, and the media can conduct individualized searches about the herbal industry, supplement products, or specific health conditions and receive peer-reviewed information.

"As more and more Americans are taking an active role in maintaining and improving their health, they need good, reliable information about the health benefits and responsible use of dietary supplements," said Senator Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, one of the original sponsors of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA) in the Congress. "Research has been mounting about the health benefits of supplements. We need to make sure that consumers have ready access to the latest science-based facts so that they can evaluate these products and use them effectively."

The Dietary Supplement Information Bureau is a project of DSEA, a coalition of scientific, education, and industry groups. DSEA was created to promote the responsible use of vitamins, minerals, herbs and specialty supplements, and to ensure that the intent of DSHEA is met by providing meaningful information about the health benefits and responsible use of dietary supplements to all Americans. Its steering committee includes the American Herbal Products Association, Corporate Alliance for Integrative Medicine, the National Nutritional Foods Association, New Hope Natural Media/Penton Media Inc., and Virgo Publishing Inc. The information developed by the bureau and posted on its website is vetted by a scientific advisory board.

The entire survey, along with more information on DSEA, can be found online at <>.

-LeAnne Hunt