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Guidelines for ASA compliance

Print and web marketing are now subject to legislation that puts limitations on what individuals are able to say when advertising their services.

This legislation is known as the CAP Code, and is implemented by the Advertising Standards Authority with the key objective of ensuring that advertising and marketing communications are legal, decent, honest and truthful.

Here at Nutritionist Resource we pride ourselves in keeping the website up to date and in-line with the latest industry legislation and regulation, which is why we have developed the following Q&A style help guide to help you understand the CAP Code.

The CAP Code

Whatever industry you practice within, legislation is subject to frequent changes and it can often be difficult to keep up with what's what. If this is the first time you are hearing about the CAP Code, the following FAQs may help to further your understanding:

Q1: What is the CAP Code?

A1: The CAP Code is the 'UK Code of Non-Broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotions and Direct Marketing'. The code stipulates what can and cannot be said within web and print adverts with a view to making advertising and marketing communications as truthful as possible.

Q2: What is the role of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA)?

A2: The Code is the responsibility of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) and is independently administered by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). The ASA are responsible for enforcing the code, and investigating complaints about adverts that are not compliant.

Q3: Why must I comply with the CAP Code?

A3: Both under the code, and by law, it is your responsibility to ensure that your advertising does not mislead.

If you do not comply, there is always the chance that a complaint may be lodged. In the event of receiving a complaint about one of your adverts, ASA would consider the complaint against the Code, and if it does not meet the standards, you could be asked to amend or remove the advertisement under scrutiny.

From a client perspective, it is also comforting to know that your practitioner is abiding by the necessary industry rules and regulations.

Q4: Where can I find further information about the CAP Code?

A4: The full UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (CAP Code), can be viewed here. Should you have any queries regarding the code itself, please contact CAP directly.

Q5: What parts of the CAP Code are relevant to my profile listing on Nutritionist Resource?

A5: Whilst it is important to familiarise yourself with the entire CAP Code, the most important rules are regarding references to medical conditions in marketing communications. Rules 12.1 and 12.2 of the Code state respectively that marketers must not make efficacy claims without evidence, nor must they discourage essential treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought.

Please note, CAP considers those who are 'suitably qualified' to be statutorily regulated by law.

Q5.1: How do I know which medical conditions are deemed as requiring treatment from a suitably qualified medical professional?

A5.1: In order to help marketers determine what medical conditions they can and cannot discuss, the Copy Advice team has compiled two lists.

  1. List A – Identifies medical conditions for which medical advice from a suitably qualified person should be sought.
  2. List B – Identifies conditions which could legitimately be referred to in marketing communications without breeching Rule 12.2, subject to them complying with all other appropriate rules.

Nutritionist Resource have published both List A and List B on our website for your reference, but please note these lists are not exhaustive and are subject to amendment and updating in line with ASA adjudications and prevailing medical opinion, including Government reports.

Both lists originally appear in the CAP Help Note on Health, beauty and slimming marketing communications that refer to medical conditions, which can be downloaded from the Copy Advice website here.

What information can I include on my profile?

We continue to recommend that members include as much information as possible on their profile pages to make them appealing and memorable to potential clients. Below you can find information about what you should be aiming to include within your profile page:

Q6: Can I discuss what a patient 'may' seek treatment for?

A6: Yes certainly. Members can discuss on their profiles general situations in which an individual may seek advice on nutrition, for example, during pregnancy or during the recovery period after an operation, but discussing specific medical conditions that appear on List A is non-compliant and in breech of the CAP Code, and discussing medical conditions that appear on List B without evidence may be non-compliant and again in breech of the Code.

When discussing any other medical conditions, care must be taken not to make efficacy claims that are not supported by evidence. For instance, claims that are more specific and refer to particular conditions may be problematic e.g., 'nutritional therapy can relieve your symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’ could not be accepted without robust evidence, (see Q8).

Q7: Can I use personal testimonials on my profile page?

A7: Yes absolutely. Your profile is a great place to display positive testimonials you have received from current and previous clients. The CAP Code stipulates that individual practitioners are able to use personal testimonials as long as they:

  • do not mention a condition from List A
  • are not misleading
  • do not imply that it has cured or treated a condition that cannot be verified. (If you have had success based on your own approach as opposed to a recognised methodology and publication in a medical journal, your client cannot mention the successful treatment or cure specifically.)
  • are related to the professional skills of the practitioner.

Q8: Can I discuss the benefits of nutritional therapy?

A8: Yes you can, although be careful not to veer off into making efficacy claims. We recommend that you use statements such as 'promoting a sense of well-being', 'improving energy levels' and 'aiding relaxation' for example, as opposed to statements such as 'nutritional therapy could assist with fertility' - which is an efficacy claim with no supporting evidence.

Additional benefits such as those surrounding diet modification may also be acceptable, as long as they are based upon accepted science.

What information can't I include on my profile?

Q9: Can I use a professional study to support an efficacy claim made within my profile?

A9: ASA states that any professional study used must be of a 'robust' nature and accurately presented.

NICE guidelines and large studies are likely to be considered by ASA to be 'reasonable' but the information must be accurately described in so far as it must not just include the 'positive' supporting examples but also the negatives to really give a full overview.

For example, if discussing NICE guidance on anaemia, which does recommend and discuss certain foods and dietary recommendations and their positive outcomes, you would also need to report the sections of the report which highlighted times at which supplementation should not be given (and provide details of where this information could be found).

As it is not possible to include this information on profiles, Nutritionist Resource is currently compiling efficacy research to publish on the website, based on a number of different professional studies. Once this is in place, you will be able to use this information to support an efficacy claim made on your profile.

Q10: Can I claim to 'cure' or 'treat' certain medical conditions?

A10: No. Under the code, claims must not be made to 'cure' or 'heal' any medical conditions unless robust evidence is provided to support said claim.

Whether the words 'treatment', 'treat', or 'cure' are used, all are likely to be seen by members of the public as claims to alleviate or cure a condition or a symptom. CAP advises that these terms are not used either directly or indirectly, unless evidence has been provided to support the claims.

A list of medical conditions that are included under the CAP Code can be found in the CAP Help Note on Health, beauty and slimming marketing communications that refer to medical conditions, which can be downloaded from the Copy Advice website here.

Q11: Can I use my own personal study to support an efficacy claim made within my profile?

A11: No. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) do not consider small scale or personal studies adequate evidence of efficacy. According to ASA guidelines, evidence submitted to support health claims should include at least one adequately controlled experimental human study.

Q12: Can I discuss specific foods or nutrients that could be of benefit to clients on my profile?

A12: Under the European Food Regulations individuals are prohibited from making very specific claims about particular foods and products unless they have been validated and are supported by evidence. For instance, 'Soy protein has been shown to lower/reduce blood cholesterol; blood cholesterol lowering may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease'. This is an example of a claim that has been rejected on the grounds that the evidence provided was not compliant with EU regulations.

More general claims, for example 'fruit and vegetables contain a variety of vitamins and minerals essential for the processes in our bodies', are not likely to be problematic because they are based upon generally accepted science.

You can search for claims using the EU Register on nutrition and health claims. The register contains details of both authorised and rejected health claims which can and can't be made about specific foods and nutrients. Please bear in mind that the register is not yet complete so if your claim does not appear it does not mean it has been rejected.

Q13: Can I list conditions I deal with on my profile?

A13: No, please do not do this, this is what our tick boxes are for. Underneath the tick boxes included on your profile we have inserted a disclaimer so that potential clients know they should be seeking medical help for specific medical conditions. If you publish your own list of conditions, they will not be accompanied by a disclaimer and will therefore not be compliant under the code. The way information about medical conditions is presented on our site has been carefully constructed to comply with the CAP code.

Q14: Can I publish my own disclaimer on my profile page so that I can include the content I wish to?

A14: No. We have tailored our disclaimer to be as simple as possible for users. Including your own disclaimer with different information may confuse visitors to your profile and it may also contradict the Nutritionist Resource disclaimer.

Q15: Can I say whatever I want on my profile if I agree to take responsibility for its content?

A15: No. The Code applies to portal sites as well as to individual advertisers so it is our responsibility to ensure that the individuals who market themselves on our website do so responsibly.

How does the CAP Code affect registered dietitians?

Q16: I am a registered dietitian, does the CAP Code still apply to me?

A16: Dietitians are the only statutorily recognised nutrition professionals, and hold the only legally recognised graduate qualifications in nutrition and dietetics. They have undertaken specific training and they are able to issue individualised advice and support for specific medical conditions.

Individuals listed on Nutritionist Resource as dietitians have provided us with proof of registration with the Health Professions Council (the statutory regulator for the profession), and are therefore exempt from certain clauses of the CAP Code and may be able to discuss conditions from List A or List B on their profile page.

Does the CAP code apply to any articles I submit?

Q17: Do I need to make sure that my articles comply to the CAP Code?

A17: Our Expert Articles provide links back to the author's profile, and as such as a form of marketing for our members even if they're provided purely for information. This means that the CAP Code will still apply to any articles you submit. You'll need to make sure that any claims in your article are supported by robust scientific evidence, and that any claims about specific foods or nutrients are authorised by the EU Register of Nutrition and Health Claims. You'll also need to ensure that your article doesn't discourage essential treatment by a medical professional.

How does Nutritionist Resource comply with the CAP Code?

Q18: Is the 'Nutrition Topics' section of the website ASA compliant?

A18: Our content team has audited all of our current pages in the 'Nutrition Topics' section to ensure that they comply with the CAP Code. No efficacy claims have been made unless there is evidence to support them. On the Advertising Standards Agency's recommendation, we will also soon be introducing a separate area of the site where visitors will be able to view all research documentation.

CAP have also advised us that any evidence about such conditions needs to be sufficiently removed from efficacy claims, so we are working on building a new area of the website where both members and visitors will be able to find this information.

Q19: How will Nutritionist Resource continue to assure the website and the profiles on it will remain compliant?

A19: We have put numerous quality control checks into position to ensure that both our content and member content continues to remain what we believe to be compliant under the CAP Code.

How do I know if my profile is ASA compliant?

We understand that all of this information can be difficult to take in, to interpret, and indeed to implement. In order to try make this process as simple as possible, we have created an ASA Compliance Test based on our interpretation of the Code.

  • ASA Compliance Test – When updating your profile ensure that you have ticked all of the boxes, this way you can be fairly certain your profile adheres to all of the relevant guidelines.

Useful resources

Documents and resources mentioned in this help guide:

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