The Activia Challenge Fails Miserably

What Women Really Think
Dec. 17 2010 11:35 AM

The Activia Challenge Fails Miserably


Apparently, the "Activia Challenge" does not count as scientific evidence. Dannon has agreed to stop pitching its probiotic-laced yogurt as a solution to "occasional irregularity," aka constipation, after the FTC alleged that the claim was misleading. Now Dannon has to pay out $21 million in settlements with state and federal regulators and overhaul its advertising campaign. (That’s probably about what Dannon has had to pay Jamie Lee Curtis to discuss colon performance in ad after ad .) Dannon’s not only in trouble because of its claims surrounding "digestive irregularity": The FTC also faulted it for telling consumers that the yogurt drink DanActive could help prevent colds. DanActive’s and Activia’s supposed health benefits were derived from probiotics. Probiotic cheerleaders-many of whom profit from sales of the "natural health wonder"-also like to say that the microorganisms can help treat or prevent conditions like bad breath, yeast infections, eczema, even cancer.


Dannon’s reaction to the settlement is quite telling. In a statement, the company said, "Millions of people firmly believe in, benefit from and enjoy these products, and Dannon will continue to research, educate and communicate about the benefits of probiotics on the digestive and immune systems." It’s the "believe in" that Dannon emphasizes-and that is most troubling. If Activia doesn’t do what it claims, then does it really matter whether people "believe in" it? When it comes to health, we often cling to beliefs at the expense of evidence, as demonstrated by the appalling amounts of money spent each flu season on ineffective "supplements" like Airborne and homeopathic remedies.

Dannon’s Activia pitch depended heavily on the two-week "Activia challenge," during which people were supposed to eat the yogurt daily and try to detect changes in digestion. But more productive trips to the bathroom during those two weeks could hardly prove that Activia was doing what it was supposed to do. Constipation can and does spontaneously stop. And, as the FTC/Dannon agreement notes, for the minor benefits of probiotics for treatment of constipation, people would have to consume three servings of Activia per day . That’s a whole lot of yogurt-and presumably most of the folks who reported positive results from the Activia Challenge weren’t eating nearly that much.

The best lesson of the Dannon debacle is that testimonials don’t equal efficacy. Personal experience doesn’t even demonstrate efficacy, since we don’t control for other factors, like fiber intake in the case of Activia or exposure to germs in the case of DanActive. Better "digestive health" while eating Activia doesn’t necessarily mean that Activia did squat. And not developing a cold while drinking DanActive doesn’t mean anything, either. Sorry, Jamie Lee Curtis, but I just don’t believe you anymore.

Torie Bosch is the editor of Future Tense, a project of Slate, the New America Foundation, and Arizona State that looks at the implications of new technologies. 



More Than Scottish Pride

Scotland’s referendum isn’t about nationalism. It’s about a system that failed, and a new generation looking to take a chance on itself. 

IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.

Why Greenland’s “Dark Snow” Should Worry You

How Much Should You Loath NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell?

Here are the facts.

Three Talented Actresses in Three Terrible New Shows


The Human Need to Find Connections in Everything

It’s the source of creativity and delusions. It can harm us more than it helps us.


Happy Constitution Day!

Too bad it’s almost certainly unconstitutional.

The Ungodly Horror of Having a Bug Crawl Into Your Ear and Scratch Away at Your Eardrum

My Father Was James Brown. I Watched Him Beat My Mother. Then I Married Someone Like Him.

  News & Politics
The World
Sept. 17 2014 4:08 PM How Teflon Is Vladimir Putin's Popularity?
Business Insider
Sept. 17 2014 1:36 PM Nate Silver Versus Princeton Professor: Who Has the Right Models?
Sept. 17 2014 1:59 PM Ask a Homo: Secret Ally Codes 
  Double X
Sept. 17 2014 4:10 PM Can These Women Fix the NFL? Or will the NFL fix them?
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 17 2014 9:37 AM Is Slate Too Liberal?  A members-only open thread.
Brow Beat
Sept. 17 2014 4:07 PM Kern Your Enthusiasm: The Genius of Jenson’s Roman
Future Tense
Sept. 17 2014 12:35 PM IOS 8 Comes Out Today. Do Not Put It on Your iPhone 4S.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 17 2014 11:18 AM A Bridge Across the Sky
Sports Nut
Sept. 17 2014 3:51 PM NFL Jerk Watch: Roger Goodell How much should you loathe the pro football commissioner?