Fraudulent Diet Program Scams
The FTC's "Operation Waistline" uncovered several misleading and sometimes dangerous diet remedies which take many forms, but produce the same results; just your wallet gets slimmer.
You may be surprised to hear that the Mayo Clinic has never heard of the Grapefruit Diet that has been attributed to them. The same with the American Heart Association and its supposed Cabbage Soup Diet. Other such attributions are as common as the remarkable claims that accompany these products.
"Eat as much as you want, exercise as little as you want, and lose 5-10 pounds a week - GUARANTEED!"
"Quickly evaporate virtually every ounce of visible fat from your waist, your hips, thighs and rear end, so lightning-bolt fast you'll want to dash to the mirror every 15 minutes to watch those ugly pounds magically disappear right before your very eyes".
Just Walk To The Chromium Mine
One company advertised and sold "Slimming Insoles," an insole worn in each shoe that purportedly causes weight loss through the principle of "reflexology". Every time the user takes a step, the insoles are said to massage certain reflex zones that are connected to the digestive system. By stimulating the digestive system, the insoles are supposed to cause the body to burn stored fat.
Another states "Nine out of ten people don't get enough chromium from their daily diet. In fact, in order to get enough, it's been estimated that the average person, if they didn't change their diet, would have to consume as much as 13,000 calories a day".
"Our ChromaTrim is a chewing gum that contains chromium picolinate, a very special form of chromium that significantly reduces body fat and causes weight loss without dieting or exercise. It also increases lean body mass and builds muscle."
We Promised A Thinner Wrist, Not Waist
Telemarketers from Shop From Your Home, Doctors Wellness Network, Better Health Products, Wealth Through Health Investments and Doctor Golden's Weight Loss Laboratories used a sophisticated computer automated dialing system to induce consumers to purchase diet pills such as the "Fat Eliminator" through outrageous claims of guaranteed success and by citing false medical support for the product.
They told consumers that the calls were coming from a licensed physician's office; that the product would absorb all fat eaten; that weight could be lost by eating pizza, fried chicken and french fries; that telemarketers were weight loss consultants; and that there was no risk because of the company's money back guarantee.
Any regular attempt to obtain a refund resulted in being forced to complete numerous refund request forms and suffer delay after delay until the effort was abandoned. The company guarantee was honored only if the consumer threatened to contact law enforcement officials.
"NEW ALL-NATURAL WEIGHT LOSS PRODUCT, NOW ON THE MARKET!!!'
"If you've heard about the new 'Phen/Fen' Diet, and thought about trying it...DON'T!!!"
"With the ALL NATURAL 'Thin-Thin Diet', you can achieve the same results, without the dangerous side-effect of Drugs! Eat the foods you want, and STILL lose 10-12 pounds per month! Patent Pending Thin-Thin Diet works for you to lose weight and KEEP IT OFF."
"Forbidden foods that you craved before beginning your THIN-THIN DIET can still be eaten in moderation because the fat they contain is blocked by the chitin fiber found in LIPO-THIN. This remarkable, naturally occurring ingredient acts like a 'fat magnet' or a 'fat sponge' in your digestive tract. It forms a non-digestible gel that binds with fat molecules and prevents their absorption into your body."
It's Their Coleslaw That Adds Weight
"Just what is it that lowered these people's cholesterol levels so dramatically? This is it. A new, completely safe scientifically proven method that is as simple as chewing two flavorful wafers with every meal. It is called Cholestaway. It is not a prescription drug, not a chemical, but a simple, all natural dietary supplement that guarantees to lower your blood cholesterol level or your money back."
"This is what I did. I ate a pound of Kentucky Fried Chicken (the skin, the bones, the grease —all of it) for sixty days and at the end of the sixty days, I checked, and my cholesterol had dropped remarkably. My blood fat had gone down. And to my surprise, I had lost 25 pounds."
The Weight Loss Industry
The prevalence of obesity continues to increase at alarming levels. One third of the adult population is currently overweight or obese. A sedentary life style contributes to over three hundred thousand excess deaths each year. Next to smoking, obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in North America.
Twenty-five percent of men and close to forty percent of women are currently trying to lose weight and will spend $33 billion per year trying to lose weight or to prevent weight gain. Yet in spite of the widespread promotion and marketing of thousands of treatments, devices, therapies, programs and products that purport to induce weight loss and prevent regain, the most remarkable aspect of most of them is their failure rate.
Consumers continue to make choices that promise miracles that are not achievable and, in many instances, threaten their health. The size of the market for fraudulent weight loss products and services, an estimated five billion dollars annually, supports this conclusion.
Beneath the glitter and the hype that make up so many advertising campaigns for weight loss products and programs lay the sobering reality that too many consumers ultimately fail in losing weight and keeping it off.
Pills for pounds
The 1990's saw the emergence of prescription drug therapy for obesity as a potent marketing force rivaling the appeal of commercial weight loss centers.
Dexfenfluramine (marketed as Redux), and two other appetite suppressants, fenfluramine and phentermine, when used in combination ("Fen/phen") for the treatment of obesity, were responsible for the burgeoning market demand for these drugs.
Fueling the demand was extensive coverage in the popular press and saturation advertising campaigns by programs, obesity clinics, and individual physicians offering access to these "miracle" drugs.
Many physicians established overnight diet-pill clinics, and attracted a vulnerable public into their offices with advertisements exclaiming medical breakthroughs with quick, safe and permanent results. In addition, commercial weight loss programs entered into the medical prescriptive market.
It has been estimated that 10 million Americans used fen/phen, and that prescriptions for both drugs totaled some 18 million in 1996 (Boston Globe, May 6. 1997). Fen/phen sales reached $400 million in 1996 (Wall Street Journal, March 31, 1997).
The announcement in July 1997 by the Mayo Clinic of a possible association of at least one of the components of fen/phen with a potentially serious cardiac-valvular disease, caused alarms to sound across the country. Subsequently, echocardiogram results in patients who had used fen/phen revealed a 30 percent prevalence of the rare disease.
Since its voluntary removal from the marketplace it has been replaced by new "herbal" phen-fen products. These botanical products can also have powerful pharmacological effects. Consumers may make incorrect assumptions that these products are inherently safe or safer than synthetic drug products because they are "natural."
Expectations While Dieting
"Much of the motivation for dieting is based upon a dissatisfaction with appearance that cannot be fixed by dieting. For most people, no amount of weight loss will transform their bodies to look like models or movie stars. Too much emphasis is placed on weight loss, and not enough emphasis is placed on improving health and well-being". David Schlundt, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, Vanderbilt University.
In a perception study in which consumers averaging 220 pounds were asked, prior to losing any weight, what they would consider to be an acceptable level of weight loss, the results were as follows: Their "dream weight" was 135 pounds, a 38% reduction. They would be "happy" with a 32% reduction, would "accept" a 25% reduction, but would be "disappointed" with a 17% reduction.
Under this study, 67% of the dieters would be "disappointed," or worse, with the 10-15% reduction achievable under a current state-of-the-art program. What they want instead is the quick fix or the magic bullet.
People who have unrealistic notions about how much weight they can lose or keep off over time, can face devastating blows to their self-esteem when they experience repeated failures. When they start out with unrealistic expectations, they may then choose methods that are either unproven or over-hyped. says Dean Graybill, Assoc. Director, Div. of Service Industry Practices, FTC
Rapid weight loss risks
Although rapid weight loss is widely advertised, significant health complications can result from it. Rapid weight loss of three pounds per week can cause the rapid development of gallstones within four weeks. The risk of developing gallstones is 15 to 25 times higher in patients experiencing rapid weight loss than in the general obese population.
Many potions for rapid weight loss are either diuretics or laxatives which merely force water from your system leaving you dehydrated and prone to illness. Any weight loss in the first ten days can be attributed exclusively to water loss. As soon as your fluids are replenished you gain back that weight in water.
You may also be encouraged to take something like amphetamines (speed) which is said to increase your metabolic rate. You can then prepare to join all the other wafer-thin junkies on skid row.
Dieting methods that really work
The FTC agrees with many health experts who recommend a combination of diet modification and exercise as the most effective way to lose weight and keep it off and a goal of losing about a pound a week. A modest reduction of 500 calories a day will achieve this goal, because a total reduction of 3,500 calories is necessary to lose one pound of fat.
Hundreds of people that have maintained a healthy weight successfully for a period of many years consistently cite changes and commitment to diet and exercise as their keys to weight maintenance. A one or two pound per week loss could be a reasonable objective.
Many health experts recommend that adults limit their fat consumption to 25% of total caloric intake. Revising one's diet by replacing many of the calories from fats with calories from other food groups and exercising several times a week to increase the use of calories should keep most people feeling full, satisfied, and motivated enough to continue healthful eating habits.
Merely reducing calories often makes dieters feel hungry because it cuts down on important vitamins and minerals. This can end up sabotaging your efforts.
So take note of the facts when you see the following claims:
"LOSE WEIGHT WHILE YOU SLEEP."
Fact: Losing weight requires significant changes affecting what kind of food, and how much of it, you eat. Claims for diet products and programs that promise weight loss without sacrifice or effort are bogus.
"LOSE WEIGHT AND KEEP IT OFF FOR GOOD."
Fact: Weight loss maintenance requires permanent changes in how you eat and how much you exercise. Be skeptical about products that claim you will keep off any weight permanently or for a long time.
"JOHN DOE LOST 84 POUNDS IN SIX WEEKS."
Fact: Someone else's claim of weight loss success may have little or no relevance to your own chances of success. Don't be misled. Poor Joe might be dying of aids.
"LOSE ALL THE WEIGHT YOU CAN FOR JUST $99."
Fact: There may be hidden costs. For example, some programs do not publicize the fact that you must buy prepackaged meals from them at costs that exceed program fees. Before you sign up for any weight loss program, ask for all the costs. Get them in writing.
"LOSE 30 POUNDS IN JUST 30 DAYS."
Fact: As a rule, the faster you lose weight, the more likely you are to gain it back. In addition, fast weight loss may harm your health.
"SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGH… MEDICAL MIRACLE"
Fact: To lose weight, you have to reduce your intake of calories and increase your physical activity. Be skeptical of extravagant claims to the contrary.
For additional info on medical-related scams visit:
Quackwatch Medical scams.
DietFraud - Diet and other weight loss related scams.
For a most horrifying tale of a Drug Rehabilitation Program called the Straights Inc.