Usage of Plant Food Supplements (PFS) for weight control in six European countries: results from the PlantLIBRA PFS Consumer Survey 2011-2012

BMC Complement Altern Med. 2016 Jul 28:16:254. doi: 10.1186/s12906-016-1227-5.


Background: Obesity is increasing worldwide and weight-control strategies, including the consumption of plant food supplements (PFS), are proliferating. This article identifies the herbal ingredients in PFS consumed for weight control and by overweight/obese dieters in six European countries, and explores the relationship between their consumption and their self-reported BMI.

Methods: Data used were a subset from the PlantLIBRA PFS Consumer Survey 2011-2012, a retrospective survey of 2359 PFS consumers. The survey used a bespoke frequency-of-PFS-usage questionnaire. Analyses were performed in two consumer subsamples of 1) respondents taking the products for "body weight reasons", and 2) "dieters for overweight/obesity", to identify the herbal ingredients consumed for these reasons. The relationship between the 5 most consumed herbal ingredients and self-reported BMI in groups 1 and 2 is explored by comparing BMI proportions of consumers vs. non-consumers (using Chi-squared test).

Results: 252 PFS (8.8 %) were consumed for "body weight reasons" (by 240 PFS consumers); 112 PFS consumers (4.8 %) were "dieting for overweight/obesity". Spain is the country where consuming herbal ingredients for body weight control and dieting were most popular. Artichoke was the most consumed herbal ingredient. Considering only the 5 top products consumed by those who responded "body weight", when using the total survey sample, a greater proportion of BMI ≥ 25 was observed among consumers of PFS containing artichoke and green tea as compared to non-consumers (58.4 % vs. 49.1 % and 63.2 % vs. 49.7 % respectively). Considering only the 5 top products consumed by "dieters" and using only the "dieters" sample, a lower proportion of BMI ≥ 25 was observed among pineapple-containing PFS consumers (38.5 % vs. 81.5 %); however, when using the entire survey sample, a greater proportion of BMI ≥ 25 was observed among artichoke-containing PFS consumers (58.4 % vs. 49.1 %).

Conclusions: A comparison of results among the scarce publications evaluating the use of weight-loss supplements at the population level is limited. Nevertheless every hint is important in finding out which are the self-treatment strategies used by overweight/obese individuals in European countries. Although limited by a small sample size, our study represents a first attempt at analysing such data in six EU countries. Our findings should encourage the conduction of further studies on this topic, long-term and large sample-sized studies, ideally conducted in the general population.

Keywords: Body mass index; European; Plant food supplements; PlantLIBRA survey; Weight control.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anti-Obesity Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Body Mass Index
  • Dietary Supplements*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Phytotherapy / statistics & numerical data*
  • Plant Preparations / therapeutic use*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Young Adult


  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • Plant Preparations