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27 April 2011
Dietary supplements making people less healthy?

Half of the population takes dietary supplements, but a new study points out that there is no corresponding improvement in public health. Appearing in Psychological Science, the study identifies an interesting asymmetrical relationship between the frequency of dietary supplement use and the health status of individuals.

Study author Wen-Bin Chiou, of the National Sun Yat-Sen University (Taiwan), decided to test if frequent use of dietary supplements had any influence on subsequent health-related behaviors after observing a colleague chose an unhealthy meal over an organic meal simply because the colleague had taken a multivitamin earlier in the day.

Two different experiments were conducted using a diverse set of behavioral measures to determine whether the use of dietary supplements would influence subsequent health-related behaviors. Participants in Group A were instructed to take a multivitamin and participants in the control group were assigned to take a placebo. However, all the participants actually took placebo pills.

The results from the experiments showed that participants who believed they had taken dietary supplements felt "invulnerable" to health hazards, leading them to engage in health-risk behaviors. Specifically, participants in the perceived supplement use group expressed less desire to engage in exercise and more desire to engage in hedonic activities, preferred a buffet over an organic meal, and walked less to benefit their health than the control group.

"People who rely on dietary supplement use for health protection may pay a hidden price, the curse of licensed self-indulgence. [They] have the misconception that they are invulnerable to health problems and may make poor decisions when it comes to their health - such as choosing fast food over a healthy and organic meal," Chiou concluded.

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Source: Association for Psychological Science

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