Controversy doesn’t generally spring from yet another juice bar squeezing itself into the Corvallis market, but the summer arrival of Hang N’ Healthy has generated some community froth.
Located on 2nd St., Hang N’ Healthy offers aloe shots, energy teas, and protein shakes – and their association with the multi-level marketing (MLM) company Herbalife has stirred worries from locals.
Specific concerns start with product ingredients, advertisement strategies, and the health risks potentially imposed on the community.
Hang ‘N Healthy
In their Facebook page’s “About” section, Hang N’ Healthy states it’s a Herbalife Nutrition Club – what Herbalife defines as “social gatherings, bringing together persons who become members wishing to focus on good nutrition and regular exercise in order to achieve optimum health.”
MLM’s like Herbalife pay employees based on how many products they sell, and the number of sales associated they recruit for the company. As The Atlantic described it, the more Herbalife protein shakes that members you’ve signed up buy, the more money you make. In order to get to this stage, employees and their recruits must first buy “several thousand dollars’ worth of shakes and supplements before these bonuses kick in.”
On the surface, Herbalife simply sounds like a company focused on promoting healthy lifestyles among their patrons. But the organization, like many other MLMs, has faced great scrutiny from the public after having been accused of deceiving employees, and of using ingredients that pose health risks to their consumers.
Legal Filings Against Herbalife
Herbalife was accused of their products being associated with liver problems multiple times in the early 2000s. In 2004, Israel’s Health Minister began an investigation into Herbalife’s products after four people developed liver issues while taking the company’s products. A study of the cases was conducted by the Israeli Ministry of Health and ultimately found a causative relationship between Herbalife products and liver issues, but Herbalife’s SEC 10-Q filings stated that no causal connection was discovered and that independent analysis confirmed this.
However, Herbalife faced accusations again in 2007 when doctors at the University Hospital of Bern in Switzerland and the Liver Unit of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center in Israel found an association between Herbalife products and hepatitis. Following this discovery, the Spanish Ministry of Health issued an alert warning consumers about Herbalife products, but the alert was eventually pulled after the company cooperated with authorities, the investigation was completed, and the agency decided no action was needed.
In 2013, a peer-reviewed study reexamining cases of hepatoxicity and their connection to Herbalife was published in the World Journal of Hepatology. The study concluded that according to the liver specific Council for International Organizations of Medical Sciences scale, “causality was probable in 1 case, unlikely and excluded in the other cases. Thus, causality levels were much lower than hitherto proposed.” However, in a study from 2012, the same author claimed that causality between liver problems and a few Herbalife products was “highly probable or probable.”
Herbalife has also faced accusations relating to their advertising strategies and business practices.
In 2014, an investigation into Herbalife was opened by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC argued that Herbalife deceived consumers by advertising that individuals could make substantial income through the company. In a press release by the FTC, they said, “it’s virtually impossible to make money selling Herbalife products.”
This led to Herbalife changing its business model and agreeing to pay $200 million in a settlement with the FTC. Herbalife also sent out partial refund checks to about 350,000 Herbalife distributors in early 2017.
Most recently, it was released on Aug. 28, 2020 that Herbalife has agreed to pay penalties of more than $122 million to resolve the United States Department of Justice and United States Securities and Exchange Commission’s investigation into the company’s violations of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
A Department of Justice’s press release said, “The resolution arises out of Herbalife’s scheme to falsify books and records and provide corrupt payments and benefits to Chinese government officials for the purpose of obtaining, retaining, and increasing Herbalife’s business to China.”
Health Implications of Herbalife
Since their founding in 1980, Herbalife products have been investigated a number of times due to negative health implications.
A research study last updated in 2018 and conducted by the National Center for Biotechnology Information reported, “There have been many reports of acute, clinically apparent liver injury in persons taking Herbalife products, but the link to the HDS [herbal and dietary supplements] product has often been controversial.”
The study ultimately found that liver injury associated with Herbalife products remains unexplained.
“There is no clear commonality in the products themselves, much less their constituents. Some products contained green tea or aloe vera extracts, both which have been implicated in other forms of HDS liver injury,” NCBI wrote. “Nevertheless, in patients presenting with acute or chronic, unexplained liver injury, all HDS products should be discontinued and the case reported to federal registries.”
Another issue that companies like Herbalife pose is that their products, since they are dietary supplements, are not subjected to premarket approval by the Food and Drug Administration.
“FDA is not authorized to review dietary supplement products for safety and effectiveness before they are marketed,” according to the FDA. “The manufacturers and distributors of dietary supplements are responsible for making sure their products are safe before they go to market.”
What are people in Corvallis saying?
For the above reasons and more, some Corvallisites are concerned about an “Herbalife Nutrition Club” popping up downtown.
Two local citizens, who would like to remain anonymous, aired their concerns about Hang N’ Healthy. They cited the company’s tendency to block those who inquire about their business, a general lack of transparency, the safety of their products, lack of social distancing and mask-wearing, and a post that suggested that players on the Oregon State University women’s basketball team utilized Herbalife products.
These same Corvallisites claimed that Hang N’ Healthy did not start clearly stating they were associated with Herbalife until people on social media began urging them to do so, saying that after asking clarifying questions on their social media, they were subsequently blocked by the business.
Additionally, there are also claims that social media photos show one Hang N’ Healthy owner not wearing a mask in the building while within six feet of customers.
Hang N’ Healthy also had an incident in which they posted a picture of the OSU women’s basketball team and alluded to some players using Herbalife products. When a concerned community member saw this, they reached out to the team’s coach and OSU Athletics about it, worried it may be a violation of the players’ NCAA contracts. Shortly after, the picture was taken down from Hang N’ Healthy’s social media.
OSU Executive Deputy Athletic Director Dan Bartholomae said of the incident, “The department was made aware of the photo and in consultation with Hang N’Healthy it was taken down. Consequently, there was no violation of NCAA rules that took place.”
Hang N’ Healthy did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
By Cara Nixon