Don't Believe Everything You Read about Weight-Loss Programs

Article excerpt

Byline: Don Mauer

If you exercise regularly at a health club, you dread January.

Throngs of people who woke up Jan. 2 and found they'd received the gift of greater girth or folks who promised last year that when the New Year arrived they'd get serious about a weight-loss and exercise program crowd the club.

January also sees advertising for weight-loss products, such as nonprescription pills or dubious mechanical or electrical exercise equipment, ratchet upwards. As the month begins, Americans search for the Holy Grail of easy weight loss that will see them spending more than $35 billion dollars by year's end.

Just because advertisements for weight-loss products appear in newspapers, magazines or on television, that does not mean those products actually work. It's up to consumers to ferret out the scams from the science. Here are some tips to help you be that savvy.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, two-thirds of all weight-loss ads use consumer testimonials to convince potential buyers that they will duplicate those testimonials. Anecdotal evidence, no matter how accurate, never equals multiple, double- blind scientific studies for facts and accuracy.

Many weight-loss ads promise fast or guaranteed results. The speed at which weight loss occurs proves only that if you can lose five pounds a week, you can also gain back five pounds a week. Although advertisers may keep their word about guarantees, they also know that most folks won't take the time or make the effort to collect on those guarantees.

Quite a few ads promise that weight can be lost without dieting or exercise. Some even promise weight loss while you sleep. In the beginning of December 2002, USA Today reported that the Federal Trade Commission"... sued a San Antonio company that said its weight-loss product would allow users to gorge on pizza, beer and tacos and burn away the fat while sleeping." Uh, huh.

Before-and-after photographs appear in nearly half of weight- loss ads, making for a powerful visual impact, but the small type almost always reads: "Results not typical." Reread that quote several times before putting down your money.

Forty percent of weight-loss ads claim that their product has been "clinically proven." "Clinically proven" sounds authentic, but whose clinic, where and is the proof scientifically documented or just anecdotal? Show me an ad that answers those questions. Even authentic scientific studies rarely go past the first year when the success rates peak.

Less than 10 percent of weight-loss ads now warn that their weight-loss products could produce excessive weight loss. …