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EU Bars Claim That Water Prevents Dehydration

If you sell bottled water in the European Union, you’ll no longer be able to make the seemingly self-evident claim that drinking your product will prevent dehydration, and it’s a decision that is earning no small degree of ridicule from the British press:

EU officials concluded that, following a three-year investigation, there was no evidence to prove the previously undisputed fact.

Producers of bottled water are now forbidden by law from making the claim and will face a two-year jail sentence if they defy the edict, which comes into force in the UK next month.

Last night, critics claimed the EU was at odds with both science and common sense. Conservative MEP Roger Helmer said: “This is stupidity writ large.

“The euro is burning, the EU is falling apart and yet here they are: highly-paid, highly-pensioned officials worrying about the obvious qualities of water and trying to deny us the right to say what is patently true.

“If ever there were an episode which demonstrates the folly of the great European project then this is it.”

The ruling came about in response to a proposal by two German scientists who are critical of many of the EU’s food safety regulations:

German professors Dr Andreas Hahn and Dr Moritz Hagenmeyer, who advise food manufacturers on how to advertise their products, asked the European Commission if the claim could be made on labels.

They compiled what they assumed was an uncontroversial statement in order to test new laws which allow products to claim they can reduce the risk of disease, subject to EU approval.

They applied for the right to state that “regular consumption of significant amounts of water can reduce the risk of development of dehydration” as well as preventing a decrease in performance.

However, last February, the European Food Standards Authority (EFSA) refused to approve the statement.

A meeting of 21 scientists in Parma, Italy, concluded that reduced water content in the body was a symptom of dehydration and not something that drinking water could subsequently control.

Now the EFSA verdict has been turned into an EU directive which was issued on Wednesday.

The Guardian’s Martin Robbins calls some of the reaction to the decision “daft hysteria”:

Firstly, “regular consumption” of water doesn’t reduce the risk of dehydration any more than eating a pork pie a day reduces the risk of starvation. If I drink half a pint of bottled water while running through a desert in the blistering sun, I’ll still end up dehydrated, and if I drink several bottles today, that won’t prevent me from dehydrating tomorrow. The key is to drink enough water when you need it, and you’re not going to get that from any bottled water product unless it’s mounted on a drip.

Secondly, dehydration doesn’t just mean a lack of water, or ‘being thirsty’; electrolytes like sodium are important too. If salt levels fall too far, the body struggles to regulate fluid levels in the first place. That’s why hospitals use saline drips to prevent dehydration in patients who can’t take fluids orally, and why people with diarhhoea are treated with salt-containing oral rehydration fluids. Presumably the next big investigation at the Express will expose the shocking waste of NHS money on needless quantities of saline solution, when jolly old tap water would work just as well.

So the ruling seems pretty sensible to me, or at least as sensible as a ruling can be when the claim being tested is vexatious in the first place. It’s accurate advice, and it prevents companies selling bottled water from making exaggerated claims for their products, which is a good thing.

Exaggerated? Seriously?

Like regulators on this side of the Atlantic, the EU regulators and people like Robbins apparently believe that consumers are too stupid to think for themselves and that they blindly accept whatever claims are made by manufacturers. They also believe that they know better than the average person what’s good for them, and that the government exists to protect them, not so much from those venal, evil corporations, but from their own stupidity. Does Robbins truly believe that the average European is too dumb to realize that you need to do more than just drink water to stay healthy? Sadly, based on my own observations of people like him here on this side of the pond, I think he does.

What, exactly, would be wrong with permitting bottled water manufacturers from mentioning dehydration in their ads? Personally, I don’t see it, and I see far more evil in empowering a centralized state with the right to regulate the information that businesses are permitted to provide to consumers to such an absurd, paternalistic degree. People are smart enough to evaluate claims like this own their own, I say let them do it.

The most amusing thing about all of this, of course, is that, while the EU’s financial system continues to descend into chaos, the EU’s bureaucrats are wasting their time on nonsense like this. If Europe does survive as a united entity through all of this, it won’t be because of people like Martin Robbins who apparently find regulating the advertisement claims for bottled water more important than, well, fixing the broken system that they see all around them.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. john personna says:

    As someone who does go out and do the long hikes and bikes in various weather, I could quibble about their actual claim:

    They applied for the right to state that “regular consumption of significant amounts of water can reduce the risk of development of dehydration” as well as preventing a decrease in performance.

    “Significant” worries me, as over-consumption. What the heck’s wrong with “moderate?” Does it not move enough bottles of (in the words of Liz Lemon) lady’s sports water?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  2. Dave Schuler says:

    I think that too much is being made of this story or, possibly, the wrong conclusions are being drawn. Here are the questions that we might be asking: what are the standards for what constitutes a medical claim and how do you deem that a medical claim has been substantiated?

    If you consider dehydration a medical claim (which seems reasonable), should it be required also to be substantiated (which also seems reasonable)? I think that’s how you arrive at the conclusion that the EU did.

    There’s a broader question here: how much of medical practice has actually been rigorously substantiated? I strongly suspect it’s a lot less than people believe. The next question: should it be?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  3. john personna says:

    Sports Science – Overhydration

    It is very important to stay hydrated when training, and while it is important to make sure you drink enough fluid, it is also very important to make sure that you don’t drink too much.

    Overhydration is also known as hyponotremia or water intoxication. It occurs when you drink too much fluid and the sodium (salt) level in your bloodstream becomes diluted. This causes the amount of salt available to body tissue to decrease, and in turn causes problems with heart, muscle and brain function.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 3

  4. JKB says:

    Martin Robbin’s writing is just daft. If we were to use his logic then no claim for anything could be made. You could not claim a pain killer “eased your pain” as it would have no effect on your pain tomorrow or next week.

    As we see with some of the commenters here, there is always some oddball possibility but we really can’t control for every idiot. I wonder why overhydration is in sports science? Because sometime in the past some nut thought, if drink 4 gallons of water and put a pipe clamp on my penis, I won’t have to slow down to take a drink during the race.

    No common sense in the bureaucracy and no expectation that people are independent entities. And of course, more and more people such as Martin Robbins are well on their way to cattlization.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  5. Jeremy says:

    The silver lining in all of this is that it’s really moot: in five years, there won’t be a European Union to enforce this law, and that’s being generous.

    That’s probably the best thing to happen to Europe, actually; taking power away from unelected bureaucrats and letting people actually think for themselves. Too bad the mistakes they’ve made over the past 20 years will make the next 10 be utter hell.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  6. jan says:

    @Jeremy:

    That’s probably the best thing to happen to Europe, actually; taking power away from unelected bureaucrats and letting people actually think for themselves.

    It seems that this kind of “free range logic” could be applied here in the US as well.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  7. superdestroyer says:

    Image how bad it will be in the U.S. in a few years when the U.S. is a one-party-state with the ABA the most significant block inside the Democratic Party.

    The idea that any product can make any claim of health benefit will go down the drain.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  8. waltm says:

    Sounds like time to sound the alarm over DHMO. Monoxides can be tricky stuff

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  9. john personna says:

    @JKB:

    As we see with some of the commenters here, there is always some oddball possibility but we really can’t control for every idiot. I wonder why overhydration is in sports science? Because sometime in the past some nut thought, if drink 4 gallons of water and put a pipe clamp on my penis, I won’t have to slow down to take a drink during the race.

    It’s actually easy to outpace the kidneys in extreme and high-output conditions. And having an “expert” say “drink” can be damaging. At least until the body tries to puke its way back to balance.

    I shoot for slightly dehydrated, myself. I consider it a natural human condition. We didn’t have hydration packs a million years ago.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  10. Tano says:

    I know that you have the ability to pierce through the bs coming from the tabloid-mentality press, Doug, but you sometimes refuse to use that ability, and just go with these kind of stories – I guess because your ideology leads you to really wish that they were true.

    Where to begin with this:

    apparently believe that consumers are too stupid to think for themselves and that they blindly accept whatever claims are made by manufacturers.

    Its not stupidity, its ignorance .And yes, the average person, and many above average people simply do not have the time or the training to think critically about the propaganda coming from commercial interests – people who only goal is to move product, not to inform.

    They also believe that they know better than the average person what’s good for them,

    What a concept. Doctors, and / or scientists functioning as advisors to policy makers might know more about human physiology and disease than the average person????

    that the government exists to protect them, not so much from those venal, evil corporations, but from their own stupidity.

    no, it actually is from the venal evil corporations..

    Does Robbins truly believe that the average European is too dumb to realize that you need to do more than just drink water to stay healthy?

    huh? That is not the claim. Robbins is not complaining that the ads promise complete health from just drinking water. Are you too lazy here to even read carefully? He is complaining that the ads seem to promise more than just the obvious fact that drinking water can reverse a dehydrated state, but that it can prevent the disease-state of dehydration – i.e. dehydration caused by a physiological problem, rather than just the temporary state cause by over-exercise or things like that.

    The most amusing thing about all of this, of course, is that, while the EU’s financial system continues to descend into chaos, the EU’s bureaucrats are wasting their time on nonsense like this.

    Now this is really dumb. You think that the people who are evaluating the question of whether this ad is medically confusing are the same people who could be doing something to solve the banking crisis? Please explain how these specific individuals could better spend their time to help solve the crisis.

    If Europe does survive as a united entity through all of this, it won’t be because of people like Martin Robbins

    Yeah, so? How does that undermine the validity of his argument about this specific issue?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  11. Joshua says:

    @john personna: We also didn’t have antibiotics.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  12. Franklin says:

    the EU regulators and people like Robbins apparently believe that consumers are too stupid to think for themselves and that they blindly accept whatever claims are made by manufacturers

    C’mon, Doug, you seem to be under the impression that marketing doesn’t actually work or that false advertising doesn’t work. Do you have any clue whatsoever why you have 79 e-mails in your spam box about pills that supposedly grow your penis?

    Yes, *some* people are smart enough to not buy them. The problem that libertarians have is that they feel everybody else is just like them (in fact, this tends to be true of a lot of political bents). You’re also probably smart and honest enough not to dump toxic waste into the water supply. But yet you’ll find there actually needs to be laws and enforcement against doing such a dumb thing.

    Now, all of this is one argument, but the actual story here is another. Clearly, water is at the very least a *significant* part of the prevention of dehydration. Is government power being abused here for some odd reason (perhaps Gatorade was paying the government scientists)? It seems that way to me. Somewhere the current process is flawed. But protecting the public from dubious health claims is a perfectly legitimate government function.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  13. Franklin says:

    You can nevermind me, I think Tano actually stated the same case pretty convincingly. I seem to have failed to realize that dehydration could be something beyond a temporary state.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  14. john personna says:

    @Joshua:

    So what, you going to take them every day?

    This is about finding the body’s grove, and not about major intervention into its balance.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  15. john personna says:

    (Advice to drink “significant” water seems pretty likely to upset the balance, but what we’ve got in this thread is the standard libertarian defense of bad advice. Since people are smart (questionable) you can tell them any dumb thing.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  16. george says:

    Its not stupidity, its ignorance .And yes, the average person, and many above average people simply do not have the time or the training to think critically about the propaganda coming from commercial interests – people who only goal is to move product, not to inform.

    Good thing there are enough people around to tell the average person what to do … now if the average person would just listen to their betters it would all work out for the best.

    Both Democrats and Republicans have this belief that the average person is being led around by the (evil) manipulators of the media. The Democrats think that uniform, homogeneous media is right wing, Republicans think it is left wing, but both agree that the average person is defenceless against it, and desperately needs their guidance.

    The thing is, I’ve many friends among that “average” (you know, blue collar types, farmers, clerks) – the sports leagues are full of them. And they are if anything far more cynical about both commercials and what’s in the media than academics or white collar professionals. This is partly seen in their not bothering to vote, partly in most of them ignoring everything but the comics, entertainment and sports sections in the papers, and completely evident if you talk them about politics and the like. Most think its all a scam … their default reaction is to distrust everything.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. Franklin says:

    @george: With all due respect, anecdotes about your blue collar friends is not particularly relevant. The evidence is in: marketing works. It wouldn’t be a trillion-dollar industry if it didn’t. People might be cynical, but they simply can’t evaluate every single one of the hundreds of claims presented to them every day.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  18. Tano says:

    they are if anything far more cynical about both commercials and what’s in the media than academics or white collar professionals

    Cynicism is not intelligence, nor knowledge.

    their default reaction is to distrust everything.

    A defensive strategy used precisely because they do not have the time or training to discriminate effectively between truly fraudulent claims and legitimate arguments. Reading comics and not voting makes you a neutered citizen – and that means the powerful ones win.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  19. Wayne says:

    There are many factors that contribute to someone becoming dehydrated. Claiming one factor isn’t a contributor because there are other factors involved is asinine. Also ignoring contributing factors by saying it not that action that caused it but the resulting damage it did is asinine as well. It like saying the bullet being shot through the heart didn’t cause death but the heart being damage was the cause.

    “reduced water content in the body was a symptom of dehydration and not something that drinking water could subsequently control”

    What a stupid statement. How can you prevent or counter reduced water content in the body, by drinking water. The amount of water you drink contributes to body water content. Yes sweat, kidney process, and other factors contribute also but does not eliminate that water intake as a factor to.

    Saying drinking too much water can have harmful effect doesn’t eliminate not drinking enough as being harmful to. Electrolytes are important to but again it doesn’t eliminate the importance of water either.

    By the way eating food daily, even pork, does reduce the risk of starvation. Yes it is obvious and shouldn’t need to be said. If all they were doing was saying the two were alike, true. However claiming that eating doesn’t reduce the risk of starvation is outright wrong.

    Re” The key is to drink enough water when you need it, and you’re not going to get that from any bottled water product unless it’s mounted on a drip”

    Once again wrong. One can drink enough water using bottled water. One can failed to do so as well but that also can happen with a drip.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. RalphV says:

    Suggested reading:

    The Burden of Bad Ideas by Heather Mac Donald
    The Death of Common Sense by Philip Howard

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