Objectives: Our first objective was to determine the accuracy of information provided to customers in health food stores (HFS) in Canada. The second objective was to compare the accuracy of this information with that provided to customers in pharmacies.
Methods: Undergraduate students visited 192 HFS and 56 pharmacies, located across Canada. In approximately half of the stores, they asked whether a specific supplement would help to prevent a particular condition or enhance health in a particular way. In the rest of the stores, they asked for advice on particular health concerns.
Results: On 88% of times that questions were asked in HFS, the recommendations made were either unscientific (6%) or were poorly supported by the scientific literature (82%). By contrast, this occurred for only 27% of visits to pharmacies (p < 0.01). Conversely, on two thirds of visits to pharmacies, staff gave advice considered to be fairly accurate or accurate, but this seldom occurred in HFS (68% vs. 7%, p < 0.01).
Conclusions: The vast majority of information provided in HFS in response to questions has little scientific support. Pharmacies are a far more reliable source of information, although they still have significant scope for improvement.