Consumer Publications List
It's hard not to be
tempted by diet products that offer quick, easy ways to shed pounds.
Advertisements for these products are everywhere - in newspapers and magazines,
on TV and radio, in e-mail messages, even fliers on telephone poles.
The ads often show
"before and after" photos and testimonials from people who were overweight but
are now bikini-slim. The people in the ads say that nothing ever worked for them
before, but this product melted away the fat. They say they have more energy and
look better than ever. The ads claim the products use a new scientific
discovery, are recommended by a leading doctor, or are "all-natural."
It sounds good-but
weight loss claims are often misleading or fraudulent, and some products have
health risks. Think carefully before buying any weight loss product. Here are
some things to consider:
Be skeptical of
"amazing scientific breakthroughs." The ads usually feature
impressive-sounding medical jargon that may be meaningless. The "doctor" who
developed the product may not be a medical doctor or may not have the
credentials claimed. Many products claim to "burn," "block" or "flush" fat from
the body, but have no proof that they can actually do so.
Claims that you
can lose weight effortlessly are false. The only proven way to lose weight
and keep it off is to eat fewer calories than you burn off, and that usually
requires some effort and patience.
Crash diets are
usually not effective, and can be dangerous. Rapid weight loss is usually
followed by rapid regaining of the weight. In addition, very low-calorie diets
can be dangerous to your health. People who have medical problems caused by
obesity might choose to try to lose weight rapidly under a doctor's supervision,
but for most people it's not advised.
disclaimers. If a product is advertised to help you lose weight "when
combined with a low-calorie diet and exercise," it might be that the diet and
exercise alone is what would produce weight loss. If so, what are you paying
for?"Natural" or "herbal" does not equal "safe" or "wholesome." Many herbal
ingredients are toxic in certain doses, cause allergic reactions, or react with
prescription or over-the-counter medications. The Food and Drug Administration
does not analyze or approve dietary supplements before they go on the
laxatives and "dieter's teas" can have serious side effects. Appetite
control pills that contain amphetamines can be addictive and harmful to the
heart and nervous system. Some herbal "dieter's teas" contain powerful laxatives
or diuretics that have caused heart arrhythmias. Some fiber-based products that
claim to reduce hunger by absorbing liquid and swelling in the stomach have
caused dangerous obstructions that required emergency surgery to
The Food and Drug
Administration is now requiring manufacturers of over-the-counter diet aids
containing PPA (phenylpropanolamine) to reformulate their products, after a
study found that the ingredient might cause strokes in some users. The New
England Journal of Medicine reported in December 2000 that ephedra (also called
ma huang), often found in "natural" diet pills, may have side effects of
anxiety, tremors, high blood pressure, heart rhythm changes and
great pressure to be thin and can be vulnerable to the promises made by weight
loss products. They and their parents should be aware that some diet products
containing stimulants or laxatives can be habit-forming and dangerous.
The truth is that losing weight isn't easy and does require effort.
Most health experts say that the only effective way to lose weight and keep it
off is to reduce the amount of calories you eat and exercise more.
Don't just rely on
willpower. Ask your doctor, a dietician or a nutritionist for help in planning a
new diet, or consider a weight loss program (see below). For example, you might
be surprised to find out what a proper serving size is. In our "super-sized"
society, restaurants and packaged foods offer servings that are often the
equivalent of two or three servings. It can be helpful to get advice on how to
shop for and cook foods that are different from what you're used to, such as
lower-fat foods, whole grains, and fruits and vegetables. There are social
issues, too. You might need to break a habit of eating when you are bored or
stressed, or learn how to have a good time at parties or restaurants without
As for exercise,
you might need to try several activities to find one or two that you can do
regularly. The key is to find the right balance of foods and exercise that will
keep you at a healthy weight for the rest of your life.
A supervised weight loss program can give you a structured way
to lose weight, with support and monitoring. A good one should focus on
long-term weight management and eating healthfully. If the program consists of
selling you expensive special foods and supplements, you may put all the weight
back on once you reach your weight goal and leave the program.
What are the credentials of the professionals involved?
What kind of professional supervision is provided? What are the health risks?
Find out how much the entire program will cost, including membership, weekly
fees, food, supplements and counseling. Ask if you get can a partial refund if
you drop out.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has additional information about how to evaluate claims in ads for weight loss products. Visit the FTC's website https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0061-weighing-claims-diet-ads
Maryland Attorney General's Consumer Protection
DivisionConsumer hotline: (410) 528-8662 or 1 (888) 743-0023 toll-free
200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, MD 21202
410-576-6300 / En español 410-230-1712 / 1-888-743-0023 toll-free / TDD: 410-576-6372