Defining the Public Health Threat of Dietary Supplement Fraud



 Adverse health events resulting from dietary supplement fraud (DSF)—fraud conducted for economic gain using dietary supplements—have received increased recognition from agencies and industry. There is a growing awareness that this issue represents a significant public health threat. With increasing consumption of supplements, there are increasing consequences—good and bad—for food science and food safety. “Dietary supplements” are a special category of food that consists of finished products (for example, a vitamin D tablet) that contain 1 or more dietary ingredients. “Dietary ingredients” are the components of those finished products (for example, vitamin D added to a food product such as breakfast cereal). Due to a number of factors, potentially harmful dietary supplements reach—and often remain—in the market. DSF is a type of product fraud, as is food fraud, which is often classified by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as Economically Motivated Adulteration (EMA). Since the adulterants are unconventional, DSF may represent an even greater public health threat than traditional dietary supplement safety issues (though it is important to note that adulteration is only one type of fraud). Criminology concepts such as situational crime prevention and the crime triangle deepen understanding of the relationship of fraud opportunity as it relates to fraudsters and established hurdles to fraud. The purpose of this research is to provide a comprehensive overview on the public health threat of DSF, and to focus on altering current intervention and response-based approaches that are prevention-based.

Practical Application

 Dietary supplement fraud, including the more defined subcategory of economically motivated adulteration, is a food protection threat that has not been defined or holistically addressed. One autonomous food protection category is food defense—protection from attack—which became a public and private priority after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. There is growing awareness that attacks for economic gain is growing in awareness and regulatory focus to the point that product fraud may also become an autonomous concept. This research establishes a starting point for defining dietary supplement fraud and identifying the public health risks.