ASA Adjudication on United Kingdom Tea Council
United Kingdom Tea Council t/a
9 The Courtyard
26 September 2007
Food and drink
Number of complaints:
Five members of the public complained about three posters for the United Kingdom Tea Council:
a. One poster stated "5 portions of fruit & veg plus 4 cups of tea It all adds up to a healthy diet". Smaller print stated "Fruit and vegetables are a good source of antioxidants and the Government recommends that we should eat 5 portions or more a day. But did you know that tea is too? We recommend 4 cups a day to contribute to a diet rich in antioxidants which could help to protect your body against the damaging effects of free radicals".
b. A second poster stated "Chocolate red wine now tea You learn something new everyday." Smaller text stated "Recently dark chocolate and red wine have been in the news. So has tea, because it's a good source of antioxidants. 4 cups a day can contribute to a diet rich in antioxidants which could help to protect your body against the damaging effects of free radicals".
c. A third poster stated "This year's greatest health news? Blueberries pomegranates tea". Smaller text stated "It's great to hear that blueberries and pomegranates are a good source of antioxidants. So is tea. 4 cups a day can contribute to a diet rich in antioxidants which could help to protect your body against the damaging effects of free radicals."
Boxed text on all three posters stated "tea4health www.tea4health.com".
1. Two of the five complainants believed poster (a) exaggerated the health benefits of drinking tea, because it associated drinking four cups of tea a day with the Government's recognised 'five portions of fruit and vegetables a day' campaign;
2. two of the five complainants challenged whether the posters, particularly poster (a), misleadingly implied the advice was part of a health campaign by a Government department or similar authority and did not make clear that the ads were by the United Kingdom Tea Council; and
3. one of the five complainants thought that the overall implication that tea was healthy was misleading, because it was contradicted by the smaller text, which clarified that antioxidants in tea only "could" help to protect against free radicals and
4. two of the five complainants believed the implication that tea was healthy was misleading, because most people drank tea with milk and sugar, thereby adding to the drinker's daily calorie intake, and also because tea contained agents such as caffeine and tannins, which counteracted the antioxidant benefits of the tea.
CAP Code (Edition 11)
The United Kingdom Tea Council (UKTC) sent research, published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2006), entitled "Black tea - harmful or helpful? A review of the evidence": it reviewed many scientific trials and concluded that available evidence suggested that there could be a benefit in drinking at least three cups of tea a day for coronary heart disease (CHD) prevention, one to six cups a day for significant increases in plasma antioxidant capacity and fewer than eight cups a day to avoid the adverse effects of tea on hydration and iron status. It also reported that there was insufficient evidence to make recommendations about tea intake relating to its effect on cancer or bone and dental health.
UKTC explained that tea was rich in flavonoids, plant-derived antioxidants present in tea, and explained that growing research demonstrated the potentially beneficial effect of those antioxidants on the body by inhibiting the damage caused by the action of free radicals; they sent references to several scientific studies to illustrate their argument. They explained that, while they did not suggest that tea was a replacement for fruit and vegetables, the antioxidant activity of tea had been compared favourably to that of fruit and vegetables in a number of studies.
They said the studies showed that tea polyphenols entered and were retained for a time in the body, and were available in sufficient quantities to make an active contribution. They pointed out that they had selected conditional language in their campaign to suggest that tea, as one element in a range of complementary foods that were part of a healthy lifestyle, could make a positive contribution towards health. They also pointed out that they had sought approval from the CAP Copy Advice team prior to publication.
UKTC pointed to one study, published in 2003, which stated that a typical cup of black tea contained approximately 200 mg flavonoids per cup. They also referred to a more recent paper of 2005, which compiled the results of several studies and showed significant increases in the plasma concentration of polyphenols following tea consumption at that level; the paper also highlighted the fact that the flavonoids were bioavailable and absorbed into the body.
They submitted further studies that had examined the antioxidant activity of black tea using various assay techniques, both in vitro and in vivo, and had concluded that tea was likely to have a positive impact on free radical activity when consumed in the region of one to six cups per day; they pointed out that UKTC's encouragement to drink four cups a day fell within this range.
UKTC explained that the claim "4 cups a day can contribute to a diet rich in antioxidants, which could help to protect your body against the damaging effects of free radicals" suggested two adjoining facts: firstly, that four cups of tea per day could contribute to a diet rich in antioxidants, and secondly, that a diet rich in antioxidants could help to protect the body against the damaging effects of free radicals. They said it was not their intention to imply that simply drinking four cups of tea per day was sufficient to protect the body against free radical action. They said, however, they had concluded from the results of several studies that the consumption of black tea contributed to a diet high in antioxidants and that a higher consumption of dietary flavonols could be protective against conditions where free radical damage was involved.
1. UKTC said ad (a) intended to highlight the little known fact that the antioxidants provided by fruit and vegetables could be topped up by drinking more tea, which helped to promote overall health and well-being. They said they were careful to avoid exaggeration and had chosen text which, they believed, made clear that tea could only contribute to a diet rich in antioxidants. They pointed out that the ad's text clarified that the "4 cups a day" claim was UKTC's recommendation only and was not endorsed by the Government. They added that the ad did not suggest that tea could be a substitute for fruit and vegetables but promoted UKTC's belief that five portions of fruit and vegetables, plus four cups of tea a day, could help to provide an ideal antioxidant level and therefore aid a healthy diet. They explained that the wording of the ad had been carefully chosen in consultation with the CAP Copy Advice team.
2. UKTC said it was certainly not their intention to imply the ads were issued by the Government. They explained that the ads were labelled appropriately as promoting UKTC's "Tea4Health" campaign.
3. UKTC said they recognised the importance of ensuring consumers were not misled by their advertising claims and they therefore had used cautious language. They added, however, that the campaign was designed to communicate the health benefits of drinking tea and they hoped it conveyed that tea could be part of a healthy lifestyle.
4. UKTC said studies had shown that the addition of milk or sugar to tea did not affect its bioavailability or antioxidant activity. They said tea with milk delivered approximately 13 calories per cup. They believed, therefore, that tea, even with milk, had a low calorific value and, furthermore, the calcium provided by the milk was an added benefit. They added that there was no evidence to suggest that caffeine counteracted the flavonoid value of tea. They said some studies reported that caffeine was beneficial in moderation and pointed out that an average cup of tea contained less than 50 mg caffeine. They acknowledged that some organisations, for example, the Food Standards Agency (FSA) and the World Health Organisation (WHO), recommended a maximum caffeine intake of 300 mg per day for pregnant women, which would equate to approximately seven cups of tea per day. UKTC explained that tannins were a diverse group of complex phenolic compounds, given the modern scientific name of polyphenols or flavonoids.
The ASA noted ad (a) referred to the Government's 'five portions of fruit and vegetables a day' campaign and understood UKTC recommended four cups of tea per day to achieve optimal antioxidant benefits, based on recommended minimum and maximum quantities of tea per day quoted in studies that investigated its health benefits. We also acknowledged that UKTC had intended the reference to "5 portions of fruit & veg" to highlight the fact that, like fruit and vegetables, tea contained antioxidants, and that, in their view, the intake of both could help to provide a healthy diet by improving the body's antioxidant levels.
We considered that consumers were unlikely to infer from poster (a) that drinking tea was equivalent to or a substitute for eating fruit and vegetables. We considered, however, that the overall implication of ad (a) was that tea, through the provision of antioxidants, contributed to a healthy diet.
We noted one study submitted, Antioxidant Effects of Tea: Evidence from Human Clinical Trials (Rietveld & Wiseman, 2003), had assessed several scientific studies and concluded that tea flavonoids were potent antioxidants, which were absorbed after consumption and significantly increased the antioxidant capacity of the blood. We also noted the paper reported a possible positive effect of tea consumption on low density lipoprotein (LDL) oxidation which could, in turn, hamper the progression of atherosclerosis, a condition involving the build up of plaque on the inner lining of the artery. We understood, however, that differences in the assay methods used to compile the relevant information, plus other irregularities in the assessed trials, for example, the lack of a control element or statistical significance, rendered the trials inconclusive: the published report stated "... the quality of the studies now available is insufficient to draw firm conclusions ... further evidence from human intervention trials is required".
We consulted an expert. The expert pointed out that two of the studies submitted by UKTC had been commissioned by the tea industry and were not, therefore, independent. Regardless, she reported that the evidence clearly showed that low levels of tea flavonoids were absorbed, which in turn resulted in modest increases in the antioxidant potential of blood. She explained, however, that the increases were only transient and antioxidant levels returned to normal between three and four hours after drinking tea; the antioxidant potential was temporary and not cumulative.
She said the evidence relating to any health benefit arising from tea consumption was promising, but inconclusive. She said some of the studies submitted by UKTC presented a slightly biased review of the available evidence and pointed out that the findings from some of the epidemiological studies proffered mixed results; for example, studies completed in the UK and Australia indicated an increased risk of CHD following tea consumption, whereas America and continental Europe reported a decreased risk with increasing tea consumption. She added that, despite mounting and promising experimental evidence of the protective effects against cancer and CHD, there was little direct human trial evidence and the assessment of the beneficial effects of black tea was in the early stages.
She concluded that the research suggested that drinking four cups of tea per day would lead temporarily to increased antioxidant levels, but the evidence was not yet available to confirm that small increases in serum antioxidant levels had beneficial health effects. She said recent reviews consistently concluded that the potential benefits were promising, but strong laboratory findings had yet to be confirmed through human intervention trials.
We noted the advice of our expert and accepted that antioxidants, as flavonoids, were present in tea, and also that they were absorbed into the system following tea consumption. However, we were concerned that we had not seen evidence to show definitively that health benefits provided by the antioxidant effect of flavonoid absorption, as a result of the consumption of tea, were established.
We considered that readers were likely to recognise the Government's 'five a day' campaign and understand that eating fruit and vegetables contributed to a healthy diet. Because the ad suggested that tea could also contribute to a healthy diet, and because we had not seen evidence to firmly substantiate any health benefit in drinking four cups of tea per day, we considered that ad (a) exaggerated the health benefits of tea drinking.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clause 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 50.1 (Health & beauty products and therapies - General).
Although it was not explicit from posters (b) and (c) that the advertisers were UKTC, we considered that there was no implication in either of those ads that the advertiser was a Government body or health authority. In addition, we noted readers were provided with a website address, visitors to which would soon discover that the advertiser was UKTC. We noted, however, although poster (a) also included UKTCs website address, it made prominent reference to recommendations of "the Government" and connected UKTCs "tea4health" campaign with the Government's well-recognised endorsement of "five-a-day". We considered, therefore, that the identity of the advertisers in poster (a) was ambiguous.
Because ad (a) did not make the advertisers' identity clear and because it referred to Government recommendations, we considered that it could misleadingly imply the advice given was part of a health campaign by a Government department or similar authority.
On this point, ad (a) breached CAP Code clause 7.1 (Truthfulness).
We noted UKTC had intended the claim "... We recommend 4 cups a day to contribute to a diet rich in antioxidants which could help to protect your body against the damaging effects of free radicals" to be read as two separate statements and also noted UKTC had used conditional language in that text. We acknowledged that, although the ads conveyed that tea was very likely to have an effect on free radicals, they did not state that they definitely would; we considered, therefore, that the use of "could" in this instance qualified, rather than contradicted, UKTC's intended message.
We considered, however, that readers were likely to infer from the ad that it had been proven that antioxidants, absorbed as a result of drinking four cups of tea per day, could help to protect the body against the damaging effects of free radical action. We considered that we had not seen substantive evidence to demonstrate that the antioxidant potential realised from the consumption of four cups of tea per day could have any effect on free radical activity; we concluded, therefore, that the claim "... We recommend 4 cups a day to contribute to a diet rich in antioxidants which could help to protect your body against the damaging effects of free radicals" was likely to mislead.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 50.1 (Health & beauty products and therapies - General).
4. Not upheld
We recognised that the addition of milk and sugar to tea added to its calorific value. We also understood that tea contained caffeine, which could have a diuretic and stimulant effect, and tannins, which had been shown to have a possible adverse effect on the absorption of iron in the body.
We consulted the Food Standards Agency (FSA), which informed us that pregnant women were advised not to drink more than six cups of tea per day, because caffeine could have an adverse effect on the unborn foetus. They also reported that some people were more susceptible to the diuretic effect of caffeine than others and the effect of it varied depending on the amount of caffeine consumed; they said it was important that caffeinated drinks were not the only source of fluid consumed each day. In addition, they said it was especially important for some groups -toddlers (who should not be given tea) and young women and pregnant women (who were most at risk of iron deficiency anaemia) - to avoid tea for at least half an hour after eating to assist iron absorption. They reported that the tannin content in four cups of tea would not be expected to have any adverse effects in any other context.
We understood from our expert that the current consensus was that the addition of milk to tea had no effect on antioxidant increases and that, to her knowledge, although the addition of sugar increased the calorific intake of tea, it was unlikely to reduce the bioavailability of antioxidant compounds. We also understood from the expert that the caffeine intake arising from four cups of tea per day would safely fall within the limit thought to be acceptable, although higher levels could have negative effects and consumers drinking more than six or seven cups a day, in addition to other dietary sources of caffeine, could easily take in unhealthy levels of caffeine. We noted our expert's view that black tea also reduced the availability of non-haem iron and that vegetarians or anaemic individuals should avoid drinking tea with meals.
We concluded that, although we had not seen evidence to substantiate claims relating to the antioxidant benefits of tea, the calorie, caffeine or tannin content absorbed by four cups of tea per day was unlikely to have any significant adverse effect on drinkers: the evidence signified that, while there was no established proven health benefit to be gained from the absorption of flavonoids from tea, the level of calorie, caffeine or tannin intake at the rate of consumption advised by UKTC was unlikely to cause harm.
On this point, we investigated the ad under CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 50.1 (Health & beauty products and therapies - General) but did not find it in breach.
We told UKTC not to imply in future campaigns that there was an established health benefit, in terms of antioxidant potential, to be had from drinking four cups of tea per day. In addition, we told them to take care in future marketing to avoid the implication that their message was given on behalf of the Government or similar authority.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)