Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

The Business of Weight Loss

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About 90-95% of people who lose weight gain it back – one major reason is that many rely on quick-fix approaches that don’t lead to long-term behavior change.  There are more 29,000 weight loss products and services.  What do herbal weight loss remedies, forks with stop and go lights, weight-loss skin patches, colored weight-loss glasses, electric cellulite dissolvers, mud and plastic wraps, and inflatable pressure pants have in common?  They are weight loss products that don’t work.  Success results only for the manufacturers and purveyors that enjoy absurd profits and try to meet the great demand for these services.

The societal pressure to be thin fuels the weight loss industry.  People believe that these products must be effective or they wouldn’t be allowed on the market.  Consumer protection standards or laws do not apply to the weight loss industry. Some of them may not be safe.

Weight loss products are not required to be tested for safety or effectiveness with the exception of prescription diet pills.   Failures include fiber pills that can cause obstructions in the digestive tract, very-low-calorie diets and intestinal bypass surgeries that lead to nutrient deficiencies and serious health problems, amphetamines that can cause addictions, diet pills that cause heart valve problems, and liquid protein diets that had led to heart problems and deaths.

The responsibility for fraudulent advertising is the job of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  The FTC performs most investigations in response to consumer complaints and laws for truth-in-labeling do not keep outrageous claims from TV or the print media.

The FTC has proposed that claims about long-term weight loss “must be based on the experience of patients followed for at least two years after they complete the weight-loss program.  If this proposal ever becomes a law, it will change the weight-loss industry in the U.S.

There are bogus weight loss products that have been removed from the market.

  • Fat Magnet pills were purported to break into thousands of magnetic particles once swallowed.  When loaded with fat, the particles simply flushed themselves out of the body.  The FTC found the product too hard to swallow. The company took the product off the market and made $750,000 available for customer refunds.
  • “ Blast” away pounds in less than a month with Slim Again, Absorbit-All, and Absorbit-AllPlus pills, claimed ads in magzines, newwpapers, and on the Internet.  The company got blasted by the FTC to the tune of $8 million for making fraudulent claims.
  • Take a few drops of herbal liquid, put them on a bandage patch, and guess what – weight loss!!!  The herbal liquid was supposed to reach the appetite center in the brain and turn the appetite off.  Federal marshals weren’t impressed. They seized $22 million worth of patch kits and banned the sale of others.

Every year Frances M. Berg, MS from the Healthy Weight Network publishes the Slim Chance Awards.  The Slim Chance Awards for 2010 follow:

Worst Claim: Ultimate Cleanse (from the Website)

2-Part Cleansing Program to Support Detoxification & Cleansing*

Ultimate Cleanse offers a unique, 2-step program that gently works through the digestive tract with the body’s own internal systems to cleanse and detoxify.  The two formulas in Ultimate Cleanse® are Multi-Herb Digestion & Detox Support and Multi-Fiber Cleanse. Each product contains proprietary blends of nutrients, designed to be taken together for best results.

It uses an ingredient banned by the FDA in 2002, called Cascara sagrada which is a harsh laxative with nasty side effects if use regularly which include raising the risk of colorectal cancer and hepatitis.

Worst Product: HCG Supplements (From USAToday, Jan. 2011)

“A popular type of weight-loss products, heavily promoted on the Internet, is fraudulent and illegal, Food and Drug Administration officials say.

HCG weight-loss products that promise dramatic results and claim to be homeopathic are sold as drops, pellets and sprays on the Web, in drugstores and at General Nutrition Centers. They are supposed to be used in combination with a very low-calorie diet of 500 calories a day.

Many of the labels indicate the products contain HCG, or human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone made by the placenta during pregnancy.  There is no evidence the oral over-the-counter products are effective for weight loss, says Elizabeth Miller, FDA’s leader for the Internet and health fraud team. While they may not be dangerous, they’re at least “economic fraud,” she says.

There are weight loss clinics that use the injectable hormone HCG along with the 500-calorie diet. Most people can lose weight on a 500 calorie diet without the pills or injections. The American Society of Bariatric Physicians issued a statement that HCG was not effective for weight loss and the American Medical Association issued a safety warning.

Most Outrageous:  Basic Research LLC

This company markets supplements and weight loss products and has been under the FDA scrutiny and participants in at least 40 lawsuits.  They are charged with false advertising and making medical claims for their products that have not been studied. Their supplements are also sold under Carter-Reed brand.

Worst Gimmick: Lapex BCS Lipo Laser

A slick website with a promise to REFINE, RESHAPE, REVIVE with a safe, painless and completely noninvasive treatment for spot fat reduction and inch loss.  Of course, this is done without diet or exercise.  The price can be from $1400 to $5000 depending on the series of treatments chosen.

Diet quick-fixes have been around for decades.  They will continue until we get the “magic pill” which so far had eluded us.  Constant dieting and obsessions with weight loss has been linked to eating disorders such as anorexia, bulimia, binge-eating a new one called orthorexia (an obsession with healthy eating).  Weight loss can improve health and it does not require losing a great deal of weight.  Even a 10-15 pound weight loss can improve health parameters. But would the weight loss industry do ???

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