Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Diet Du Jour: Who Wins? Who Loses? ; Americans Spend $50 Billion a Year on Weight-Loss Plans and Products

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Diet Du Jour: Who Wins? Who Loses? ; Americans Spend $50 Billion a Year on Weight-Loss Plans and Products

Article excerpt

It's that time of year, when signs of spring abound. Dirty snowbanks have melted. Canada geese are returning to suburban golf courses. And women's magazines are heralding a new season with - what else? - diets and promises of quick weight loss.

"Drop 10 pounds by spring," proclaims Family Circle, touting its "busy woman's diet." Elsewhere, a "can't-fail diet" claims that it will help readers "lose 20 pounds by spring." The cover of Woman's World crows: "Try the new miracle soup diet. Drop 9 pounds this week!" And Woman's Own claims it is possible to "Drop a dress size while you sleep."

What could be easier? Please pass the chocolates.

Diets have long been a staple of women's magazines, with tantalizing promises of instant weight loss featured next to photos of rich desserts. The Family Circle cover promoting the "drop-10- pounds-by-spring" diet pictures a tempting "rosebud cake" as one of the issue's "divine desserts."

These headlines take on new timeliness in the context of a government-sponsored round table on diets last week. Nutrition experts gathered in Washington to debate the conflicting claims of various weight-loss regimens. High protein? Low fat? Participants couldn't agree, leading one pediatric nutritionist to state firmly, "Diets don't work."

That point of view won't stop the purveyors of weight-loss products and herbal supplements whose ads for "fat blasters" appear in magazines and TV infomercials. "Have you ever seen an overweight fish?" one ad asks. Sea animals never get fat, it explains, because their bodies contain a "fat-fighter" now available in "slimming capsules" that "soak up fat."

What a difference a century makes in attitudes toward ideal weight. In 1880, when plumpness was viewed as a sign of health, an advertisement for a patent medicine called Groves Tasteless Chill Tonic superimposed a man's head on a pig's body. "Makes children and adults as fat as pigs," the ad promised. The product had been on the market for more than 20 years, with 1-1/2 million bottles sold the previous year. Dissatisfied customers could get their 50 cents back.

Today the US Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans spend $50 billion a year on weight-loss plans and products. …

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