10 secrets of the weight-loss
It's that time of year when millions of Americans
struggle to once again lose some unwanted pounds. And the weight
loss business is booming. From pills, potions and programs to gadgets,
diet food and drinks, we're gobbling them up, seeking an easy solution
to our weight problems.
Before you open
your wallet or dive into a new program, consider this: Of the 50 million Americans
who will go on some kind of diet program, a slim percentage will successfully
shed the weight and keep it off.
Only 5 to 10 percent of us succeed,
but we all contribute to the staggering $40 billion in revenue amassed by the
weight-loss industry annually. By the year 2006, revenues are estimated to top
Millions of us succumb to quick-fix claims such
as "Eat all you want and still lose weight" or "Melt away fat while
you sleep." We find it hard to believe in this age of scientific breakthroughs
and medical miracles that an effortless weight-loss method doesn't exist. But
To help you sort through the claims, avoid
the scams and become a more educated consumer, here are 10 things the weight-loss
companies don't want you to know.
Most weight-loss product ads are deceiving, so don't believe everything you read.
A lot of the weight-loss advertisements need some toning of their own, according
to a report from the Federal Trade Commission.
and misleading claims in weight-loss ads are widespread," declares Richard
Cleland, a lawyer with the FTC and lead author of the report.
FTC review of more than 300 ads from radio, television, magazines and newspapers
that ran during 2001-2002 found that a whopping 55 percent made claims promising
more than the product or service could likely deliver.
"Consumers really need to read these ads with
a big dollop of skepticism," says Cleland.
ads do nothing to address an individual's weight problem. If anything, they compound
an already serious national health crisis by steering consumers away from weight-loss
methods that have demonstrated benefits."
such as "rapid weight loss," "no diet or exercise required,"
"eat whatever you want" and "take it off and keep it off"
are all hot buttons that advertisers use to get consumers to buy their products
and services, he says. "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is."
'Scientifically proven' or 'doctor-endorsed' doesn't mean it works.
Many products claim to be tested at "respected," "major" or
"leading" medical centers or universities. Yet, rarely is the information
provided on where the study was conducted, by whom or where it was published to
help consumers assess the validity of such claims.
when a product claims to be "recommended" or "approved" or
"discovered" by a health professional, what does that really mean?
there's no scientific evidence behind Dr. X's claims," notes Dr. George Blackburn,
a member of the government-sponsored Partnership for Healthy Weight Management
and assistant director of nutrition medicine at the Harvard Medical School.
often the endorsements fail to disclose that the health professional doing the
recommending has a financial interest in the product, or that he or she may not
have reviewed the scientific evidence. Even if it was reviewed, he or she may
not have used acceptable review standards.
And, says Cleland,
"The 'professionals' can be fictitious."
Testimonials are not a good indicator of a product's success.
on television, in print ads and on the Internet are the "before and after" testimonials
-- personal accounts of success -- in support of a product or service, many with
before and after photographs.
provide little reliable information about what consumers can expect from using
the product," says Cleland, the assistant director of the FTC's division
of advertising practices.
Typically, in the "before"
photos, the person appears with poor posture, a neutral facial expression, unkempt
hair, unfashionable clothes and washed-out skin tones. The "after" photos
generally are better lit. The person stands with shoulders held back, tummy tucked
in, wearing smarter-looking clothes and is carefully made up, coiffed and smiling.
than 10 percent of the testimonials reviewed by the FTC claimed an amount of weight
loss that was extremely unlikely -- if not impossible. The rest claimed results
that occurred in a very small percentage of users, says Cleland.
Dr. Blackburn: "Sometimes companies take healthy people, make them overeat
and the "after" picture shown is really what the person looked like
before they began overeating.
4. Just because the
government allows it on the market doesn't mean it's safe or does what it claims.
There's a misperception that the government wouldn't allow
a product to be marketed if it were bad for you, says Cleland. "People think
these products have been pre-approved by the government before allowing it to
be sold. That's not the case."
The majority of
diet products on the market today are dietary supplements. Under the DSHEA, or
Dietary Supplement and Health Education Act passed by Congress in 1994, the law
doesn't require the manufacturers of dietary supplements to demonstrate that their
product is safe or efficacious before it goes on the market.
a totally post-market surveillance system. In terms of law enforcement, there
are too many of them and not enough of us," says Cleland.
the last 10 years, the FTC has brought over 100 cases against manufacturers for
false and misleading claims and advertising.
laments Cleland, "it's just a drop in the bucket of the cases we could have
He says that despite the unprecedented level
of FTC enforcement, misleading and deceptive ads continue to saturate the market.