My favourite way of whiling away the TV ad breaks is about to get easier. When I'm being sold stuff, I like to spot all the bogus science that is made up to get around the rule that advertisers are not allowed to lie. You can usually see it coming when an ad is set in a laboratory, or features a diagram of skin cells, or is for moisturiser. (Notice too that the same ingredients in deodorants that make men's armpits butch and steely make women's armpits soft and lovely, like butterflies.)
Advertising and packaging for so-called health supplements are now going to have to deploy new legions of made-up scientific terms, thanks to last week's Which? report showing that many of their current claims are not true. Since last December, it has been illegal for products to make health claims that are not approved by the EU. So Which? examined a range of popular supplements and found that many of them made claims for which there is just no evidence. The worst culprits were certain probiotics, prebiotics and supplements claiming to improve joint health. "All health claims for these supplements have been formally rejected by the EU," Which? says.
How will the manufacturers dodge this unfortunate intrusion of science and evidence into their happy little fantasy of good bacteria and sprightly hips? I predict that they will invent a new miracle health cure, perhaps a post-biotic called something like Spurious digestifabulous, and then give it the wrinkle cream ad treatment: "Digestion appears improved (small print: 57 per cent of four women sampled agree)."
This investigation coincides with two others from sensible sources. One, published in New Scientist last week, exploded six health myths and revealed that taking antioxidant pills doesn't make you live longer; we don't need to drink eight glasses of water a day; being slightly "overweight" won't make you die younger; and our bodies cannot be "detoxed", except by our livers and kidneys, which do very well without the assistance of expensive diet aids.
The other is a fascinating series on BBC2, The Men Who Made Us Thin. Over four episodes, the presenter Jacques Peretti has spoken to dieters, doctors and scientists and found that diets generally don't work – except for the people who make money from them. In a blog for the BBC, he writes: "I spoke to a lot of scientists for this series and discovered that around 85 per cent of people put the weight back on after five years … It was interesting meeting the people who had created the diets worth literally billions … what they all share is huge charisma." That and a nice line in made-up science.
The conclusion of all these studies is, as ever, that the way to be healthy is to eat green things and not fatty things, and take exercise. Perhaps what we need to convince the public is a charismatic promoter and some completely nonsense cod-scientific terms. David Beckham? The Viridis Exercitiobvious Diet? He could donate all the profits to the NHS.