Spotting Weight Loss Fraud


Healthy weight champion Francie Berg lists the following ways to spot weight loss fraud, as part of her promotional materials for Healthy Weight Week, starting next Sunday, January 21.

Fraudulent weight loss products and programs often rely on unscrupulous but persuasive combinations of message, program, ingredients, mystique, and delivery system. A weight loss product or program may be fraudulent if it does one or more of the following. 

1. Claims or implies a large, fast weight loss — often promised as easy, effortless, guaranteed or permanent. (Weight loss should not exceed an average of one pound per week.) 

2. Implies weight can be lost without restricting calories or exercising, and discounts the benefits of exercise. 

3. Uses typical quackery terms such as: miraculous, breakthrough, exclusive, secret, ancient, from the Orient, accidental discovery, doctor developed. 

4. Claims to get rid of “cellulite.” (Cellulite does not exist and reference to it is a red flag warning of fraud or misinformation.) 

5. Relies heavily on undocumented case histories, before and after photos, and testimonials by “satisfied customers” (who are often paid for the testimony as written by the promoter). Weight loss claims should be typical of all clients, or include a disclaimer. 

6. Misuses medical or technical terms, refers to studies without giving complete references, claims government approval. 

7. Professes to be a treatment for a wide range of ailments and nutritional deficiencies as well as for weight loss. 

8. Makes claims which are not stated on the product label. 

9. Promotes a medically unsupervised diet of less than 1000 calories per day. 

10. Diagnoses nutrient deficiencies, as with computer-scored questionnaire, and prescribes vitamins and supplements (rather than a balanced diet). Recommends these in excess of 100% of Recommended Dietary Allowance. 

11. Promotes aids and gadgets such as body wraps, sauna belts, electronic stimulators, passive motion tables, aromatherapy, appetite patches, earrings, accupressure devices or acupuncture. 

12. Promotes a nutritional plan without at least one author or counselor who has reliable nutrition credentials. (Nutrition educators and registered dietitians are preferred.) 

13. Fails to state risks or recommend a medical exam. 

14. Uses unproven, bogus or potentially dangerous ingredients such as spirulina, glucomannan, human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG), echinacia root, bee pollen, fennel, chickweed, starch blockers, or chromium picolinate. 

15. It is illegal to make a drug claim not allowed by the Food and Drug Administration for any ingredient, food supplement, or nonprescription drug. A drug claim is any claim that the product will alter body processes, such as suppress appetite, speed up metabolism, or block digestion. The only allowed drug claim is appetite suppression — for phenylpropanolamine (PPA) and benzocaine only. 

16. Claims ingredients will surround calories, starch, carbohydrate or fat and remove them from the body are illegal drug claims. 

17. Encourages reliance on a guru figure who has the ultimate answers or secrets unknown by others. 

18. Grants mystical properties to certain foods or ingredients. 

19. Bases plan on faddish ideas, such as food allergies, forbidden foods or magic combinations of foods. 

20. Declares that the established medical community is against this 
      discovery and refuses to accept its miraculous benefits. 

Method of delivery
21. Is sold by self-proclaimed health advisors or “nutritionists,” often door-to-door, in health food stores, or chiropractor offices. 

22. Distributed through hard-sell mail order advertisements, television infomercials, or ads which list an 800 number without address, indicating possible Postal Service action against the company. 

23. Demands large advance payments or long-term contracts. Payment should be pay-as-you-go, or refundable. (May display prominent money-back guarantee, but a common complaint against these companies is that they do not honor their own guarantees). 

24. Uses high pressure sales tactics, one-time-only deals, or recruitment for a pyramid sales organization. 

This year, instead of succumbing to such tactics, try starting the year with another focus.  Check out tips from Green Mountain at Fox Run for starting the new year with a new outlook that will help you make it your best year yet!

6 responses to “Spotting Weight Loss Fraud”

  1. marsha says:

    It certainly appears to meet a lot of the criteria Francie lists!

  2. borzack says:

    but it includes the clinical data studies (downloadable), and approved by the MHRA guidelines and it bears the CE stamp of approval, and a licensed medical device product (MDD 93/42/EEC) ??

  3. Marsha says:

    The studies don’t appear to be peer-reviewed;i can’t really tell because i can’t seem to get the links to work that say i can get a pdf if i click it. or when i do get a pdf, it takes so long, then it hangs up. anyway, the bottom line is that other independent experts need to examine the studies and judge whether they were done correctly and actually prove what study authors say the studies do. unfortunately, there are a lot of poorly done studies out there that really don’t prove anything. since the references for where the studies have been published aren’t really apparent, it makes me think they really aren’t peer-reviewed.

    i’m not familiar with the other ‘stamps of approval.’ also unfortunately,however, we’ve seen a lot of these types of products come and go. perhaps at some point, someone will come up with a pill that really helps, but so far, it hasn’t happened. if it were true with this one, i’d think we’d have heard a lot more about it than we have. in fact, i’ve never heard of it before you brought it to my attention.

    all that said, i do try to keep an open mind. but so far, this product hasn’t convinced me.

  4. Marsha says:

    Sorry, Mario, I don’t agree. This is the kind of stuff we’ve been bombarded with for years — same claims, same promises. I think if it really worked, we’d be hearing about it more than on a website or two. Plus, fast weight loss isn’t recommended. Proven fact for the vast majority of weight strugglers: the faster you lose weight, the faster you regain it.

  5. jaye says:

    here’s a thought. get off the weight loss issue all together. stop trying to lose weight. what am I crazy? am I saying everyone should be giant tubs of fat. NO. but focusing on losing weight is only going to make you nutty. and it’s the attitude that these quacks are preying on.

    you don’t need to be fat or thin. you only need to be one thing. healthy. dump the junk food, cut back on frying stuff. don’t pork out on bread and get plenty of fruits and veggies in your diet. when you have a choice use lower fat, lower carb and even lower sugar foods. avoid high sodium prepacked stuff, drink lots of weight. and get up off your lazy ass. take a walk, do the housework, go for a bicycle ride or a swim. join a dance class. spend 30 minutes a day doing something that ain’t on your butt. and get yearly checkups.

    and it might happen that, if your current lifestyle was unhealthy, you lose some weight along the way. fat could just disappear and leaner muscles show up making you look slimmer and feel better. but if it doesn’t and you are just meant to be fat at least you can say you are still healthy.

  6. Marsha says:

    Yay, Jaye! You’ve got it exactly right!

About the Author

Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD

If you’re looking for an embodiment of dedication disguised as obsession, look no further. Marsha is a registered dietitian who has spent the last four decades working to help women give up dieting rules and understand how to truly take care of themselves. Her mission in life is to help women learn to enjoy eating and living well, without worries about their weight. She encourages women to embrace their love of food, which you might call being a foodie. If so, it’s appropriate because being a foodie means you pay attention when you eat. That’s a recipe made in heaven for eating well. Marsha is the President and Co-Owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run.

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