By Herb Weisbaum ConsumerMan
msnbc.com contributor
updated 1/15/2007 4:52:53 PM ET 2007-01-15T21:52:53
COMMENTARY

This just in: Companies are using false advertising to sell their useless weight loss products. So why does this surprise anyone? This has been going on for years.

The market is flooded with diet aids that claim to use “miracle” ingredients and “breakthrough” formulas that are “clinically proven” and “guaranteed” to work. These products all claim to help you shed those unwanted pounds quickly and easily.

Does anyone really believe these outlandish claims? Apparently so: The Federal Trade Commission says American consumers waste about $1 billion each year on worthless weight loss aids. The pounds stay on while our wallets get lighter!

This week, four companies got nailed by the Federal Trade Commission for claims that were “not supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence.” The makers of Xenadrine EFX, CortiSlim, TrimSpa and One-A-Day WeightSmart will pay a heavy fine — a combined total of $25 million — and change their future ads.

It’s a ‘buyer beware’ market
A survey released in late October found that two out of three Americans believe the Food and Drug Administration tests weight loss products prior to sale to make sure they're safe and effective.

There is no such testing. In fact, federal law specifically prohibits the FDA from testing herbal supplements (which is what most of these products call themselves) unless they are suspected of actually making people sick.

Testimonials, from celebrities or average people, are often used to sell weight loss supplements. The dramatic before and after pictures seem to prove the products work.

“Tiffany Black Lost 80 Pounds” shouts the bold headline in an ad for Xenadrine EFX. At the bottom of the page, in type so small you may need a magnifying glass to read it, it says “results shown many not be typical.” Gee, do you think?!

TrimSpa ads featured before and after pictures of Anna Nicole Smith. She’s “hotter than ever” the headline says, “after just 12 weeks.” If she can do it, why can’t you? The ad claims TrimSpa “makes losing 30, 50, even 70 pounds (or however many pounds you need to lose) painless.” If only it were so easy.

Heather Hippsley of the Federal Trade Commission says the agency has a problem with these testimonial ads. “Although any one consumer may for whatever reason think that this product assisted them in their weight loss efforts,” she says, “a company needs to have science, not anecdotal evidence, of what happens when consumers use it.”

Time for a reality check
Dr. Louis Aronne of Cornell University Medical College in New York thinks these over-the- counter weight-loss products should be held to the same standard of scientific proof as prescription drugs.

“No one’s trying to take anything off the market. Nobody’s trying to stop people from taking supplements,” he insists. “What we’re saying is that if you’re going to advertise a product and you’re going to say that it’s safe and effective, then it sure better be safe and effective.”

Dr. Aronne and other frustrated health professionals recently formed a group called the Reality Council. They hope to change a system that allows companies to use big fat lies to sell their products. It’s a system that includes some of the nation’s most respected retailers.

“If you look at these over-the-counter weight-loss products, the ones sold by the ads that the FTC now says are fraudulent, these are not sold by drug dealers, these are sold by huge chain stores,” Dr. Aronne says.

“They’re making significant profits. Why aren’t they asking if the product works?”

Time to shoot the messenger?
That system also includes the media. No longer relegated to gossip tabloids and late-night infomercials, these products are advertised on network radio and TV and in major newspapers and magazines. In fact Xenadrine EFX was advertised heavily in People, TV Guide, Cosmopolitan and Men’s Fitness.

FTC officials think it’s time the media look past the revenue gained by accepting these ads and considerthe harm they do to consumers.

‘We are really working to put the pressure on the media to do ad screening,” said Hippsley of the FTC.

While it’s easy to hide behind the First Amendment, broadcasters and publishers reject ads all the time. The Reality Council would like to see the media voluntarily agree to reject ads for weight-loss products that promise unrealistically quick and easy weight loss. Because as we all know, losing weight takes work.

The bottom line
We live in a society that wants everything to happen quickly. But as the Reality Council stresses, “Only gradual, modest weight loss and lifestyle changes can deliver successful and lasting weight management.”

Your goal should be to lose about two pounds a week. Studies show if you shed the pounds slowly, you’re more likely to keep them off.

© 2013 msnbc.com.  Reprints

Discuss:

Discussion comments

,

Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments

Data: Latest rates in the US

Home equity rates View rates in your area
Home equity type Today +/- Chart
$30K HELOC FICO 4.36%
$30K home equity loan FICO 5.07%
$75K home equity loan FICO 4.50%
Credit card rates View more rates
Card type Today +/- Last Week
Low Interest Cards 10.96%
10.86%
Cash Back Cards 16.48%
16.41%
Rewards Cards 15.99%
15.95%
Source: Bankrate.com