The Slim Chance Awards are presented annually by Healthy Weight Network and the National Council Against Health Fraud to publicize the widespread fraud in the weight loss industry, its risks, and the exploitation by con artists of the public’s seemingly insatiable desire to lose weight.
It’s a Slim Chance any of these products will help lighten
anything but the customer’s wallet!
|24 Years of Slim Chance Awards
1989 through 2012
The worst of the year's weight-loss products and promotions
Most Outrageous – Worst Claim – Worst Product – Worst Gimmick!
, Worse Claim
, Worst product
, Most Outrageous
, Worst Gimmick
Dr Oz, Worse Claim
QuickTrim, Worst product
Fake news acai berry scammers, Most Outrageous
Ab Circle Pro, Worst Gimmick
*Acai Burn, Most Outrageous
Sensa weight-loss crystals, Worst Claim
HCG, six companies, Worst Product
Weight Loss Energy Band, Worst Gimmick
*plus 14 other acai berry weight loss pills
by Jesse Willms of Just Think Media
Basic Research LLC, Most Outrageous
Ultimate Cleanse, Worst Claim
HCG Supplements, Worst Product
Lapex BCS LipoLaser, Worst Gimmick
Pills spiked with Powerful Undisclosed
Drugs, Most Outrageous
QVC Shopping Network, Worst Claim
Hydroxycut, Worst Product
Kinoki Foot Pads, Worst Gimmick
Kevin Trudeau infomercials, Most Outrageous
AbGONE, Worst Claim
Kimkins Diet, Worst Product
Skineez jeans, Worst Gimmick
Evercleanse, Most Outrageous
Bio SpeedSLIM, Worst Claim
HoodiaHerbal, Worst Product
Hollywood Detox Body Wrap, Worst Gimmick
Isacleanse, Most Outrageous Claim
ChitoGenics, Worst Claim
PediaLean, Worst Product
Magic Ear Staple, Worst Gimmick
Shape Up with Dr Phil, Most Outrageous Claim
Jana Skinny Water, Worst Claim
Nutrathin With Hoodia, Worst Product
Body Shape by Hydroderm, Worst Gimmick
EstrinD, Most Outrageous Claim
Carboburn, Worst Claim
CortiSlim, Worst Product
Green Tea 300 patches, Worst Gimmick
Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss
Himalayan Diet Breakthrough
Nutramerica’s Trim Spa
Ultimate HGH 1000
Gorayeb Hypnosis Seminars
Hollywood 48 Hour Diet
Blast Away Fat
16-Plant Macerat Weight Loss
Hyrdro-Gel Slim Patch
Dr. Atkins' Low-carbohydrate Diet
Herbal Weight Loss Tea
Ace Bandage Wrap
DHEA - Life Plus
Herbal Cleansing/Detox Program
Phena-Drene / MD
Elysee Body Toner Belt
Equinox Weight Mgmt System
Ephedrine-laced Diet Pills
Ninzu Ear Clips
Nutrition 21 Chromium Picolinate
Smooth Contours Thigh Cream
Dr. Clayton's Natural Program
Slender You Exercise Tables
Bee Sweet Grapefruit Diet
B.I. Body Wrap
Primary Plan Tablets
Slender-Mist Appetite Spray
Cho Low Tea
Dream Away Fat Blocker
Jet Trim Cellulite Unit
Ultimate Solution Diet
DISCUSSION of AWARDS THROUGH the YEARS
WORST CLAIM: Dr Oz
In the category of Worst Claim, the Slim Chance Award goes to Dr. Mehmet Oz who touted raspberry ketone on The Dr. Oz Show as “the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat.” Dr. Oz claimed the product regulates the hormone adiponectin so fat in cells is “broken up” more effectively to enable “fat burning.” He declared that the product will help the teach the body that it’s thin. But the only relevant research cited by The Dr. Oz Show was conducted on lab rats and mammalian cell cultures rather than clinical research on people. By the end of the show’s program segment on raspberry ketone, Dr. Oz shifted into disclaimer mode arguing for the need for good diet and exercise. He then contradicted his opening miracle mongering by suggesting raspberry ketone will only “get you over the hump” and “is not a miracle pill.” His disclaimers have not stopped numerous Internet marketers from using his name and image to promote sales of raspberry ketone products for weight loss.
WORST PRODUCT: QuickTrim
QuickTrim formulas include various chemical cocktails offered in caplets, drinks, drink mixes, and even skin gel—deceptively claimed to "detoxify and clean" the body and “burn” calories. Potentially hazardous ingredients in featured QuickTrim products include stimulant laxatives and unspecified amounts of caffeine. A $5 million class action lawsuit against Windmill Health Products; QuickTrim; Amazon.com; Walmart and others has alleged 28 different misrepresentations made for QuickTrim products. Co-defendants include Kim Kardashian along with her sisters Khloe and Kourtney, who have offered testimonials for QuickTrim and appeared in promotional materials for QuickTrim.
WORST GIMMICK: Ab Circle Pro
Ab Circle Pro earned the award for Worst Gimmick with ads falsely claiming that three minutes working out with the device—a fiberglass disk with stationary handlebars and two knee rests that roll on the edge of the disk, allowing consumers to kneel and rotate side-to-side—is equivalent to 100 sit-ups and can “melt inches and pounds” causing the exerciser to lose ten pounds in two weeks. In August, marketers of Ab Circle Pro, agreed to settlements with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for consumer refunds of between $15 million and $25 million. Defendants are to refrain from making false or unsupported claims in the future. They include Fitness Brands, Fitness Brands International, and the two individuals who control them, Michael Casey and David Brodess; Direct Holdings Americas, and Direct Entertainment Media Group; infomercial producer Tara Borakos, Tara Productions and New U; and Jennifer Nicole Lee and her two companies, JNL, and JNL Worldwide.
MOST OUTRAGEOUS: Fake news acai berry scammers
Dishonored in the Slim Chance category of Most Outrageous are acai berry and “colon cleanser” advertising scammers who falsely claimed that products such as Acai Pure, Acai Max, Pure Berry Max, Slimberry, Acai Ultraberry Slim, and Acai Advanced Cleanse would cause rapid and substantial weight loss. Various advertisers ran afoul of FTC leading to multi-million dollar settlements that barred the advertisers from various deceptive practices. Outrageous advertising included:
· Fake news websites using names and logos of major broacast and cable networks offering deceptive reports with titles such as “Acai Berry Diet Exposed: Miracle Diet or Scam?” and “1 Trick of a Tiny Belly: Reporter Loses her ‘Belly’ using 1 Easy Tip.”
· Supposedly free trial offers for acai berry products that deceptively enroll people into long-term contracts with monthly credit card billings for products consumers didn’t request.
Acai berry product marketers who settled FTC charges in 2012 include: Coleadium affiliate network and its owner, Jason Akatiff; Clickbooth affiliate network (owned by John Daniel Lamp); Intermark Communications doing business as Copeac; Coulomb Media and Cody Low (also known as Joe Brooks); Circa Direct and Andrew Davidson; Ricardo Jose Lampra; Zachary S. Graham, Ambervine Marketing and Encastle; Tanner Garrett Vaughn; Thou Lee; Charles Dunlevy; DLXM and Michael Volozin.
- Most Outrageous: Acai Burn (plus 14 other acai berry weight loss pills by Jesse Willms of Just Think Media)
Jesse Willms, the Canadian owner of Just Think Media. Willms is a multi-millionaire connected to more than 40 product and company names. The 23-year-old high school dropout is charged with deceiving people like Candice Rozak of Edmunton who ordered a free trial of a diet pill called Acai Burn that required only a small handling fee and later found her credit card depleted of nearly $700. It’s a major international problem says Canada's Anti-Fraud Call Centre. The FTC in the U.S. agrees and is suing Willms and his associates—who collected more than $450 million from online consumers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. The complaint says Willms sold at least 15 brands of acai berry weight-loss pills, six brands of colon cleansers and supplements containing resveratrol—all marketed with false or misleading claims. Promised money-back guarantees were often ignored. Despite the efforts of credit card companies and banks the money kept flowing through shell companies and manipulation of payment data.
- Worst Claim: Sensa weight-loss crystals
The Sensa website states boldly that users can lose an average of 30.5 pounds in six months without dieting, exercise, food restrictions or drastic lifestyle changes—by merely sprinkling these weight-loss crystals on their food. It claims that Sensa has been “clinically proven.” Smell and taste receptors supposedly send the brain messages to tell your body to stop eating. It “activates a hunger-control switch in the brain and you “eat less and feel more satisfied… no feelings of hunger or intense cravings.” Class-action suits have been filed in California and Texas against the marketers of Sensa, developed by Chicago neurologist Alan Hirsch, M.D. and sold by California-based Sensa Products. The California complaint states that (a) there is no competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate these claims and (b) an expert who reviewed Sensa's main clinical study judged it “beyond worthless.”
- WORST PRODUCT: HCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin.
HCG was first introduced more than 50 years ago by British physician Dr. Albert Simeon who claimed the hormone, found in the urine of pregnant women, would mobilize stored fat, suppress appetite and redistribute fat. He contended that regular injections would enable dieters to live comfortably on a 500-calorie-a-day diet. For a time, these weekly injections were the most widespread obesity medication administered in the US. In the mid-70s the FDA and FTC effectively shut them down by ordering the Simeon clinics to stop claiming their programs were safe and effective, and requiring they inform patients in writing that there was no evidence HCG increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction.” More recently infomercial king Kevin Trudeau took up the cudgel. His 2007 book claims HCG is "an absolute cure for obesity discovered almost fifty years ago,” but “suppressed" by medical experts and the FDA. HCG is heavily marketed online and in retail outlets as oral drops, pellets, and sprays, while injections for weight loss continue. Labeling states that each should be taken in conjunction with a very-low-calorie-diet which, the FDA noted, can trigger gallstone formation, electrolyte imbalance and abnormal heart rhythms. (HCG is approved as an injectable prescription drug for the treatment of some cases of female infertility and other medical conditions.) In December the FDA and FTC jointly warned six companies that it is illegal to market over-the counter HCG products labeled as "homeopathic" for weight loss. This is considered a first step in halting sales (Dec 6, 2011).
- WORST GIMMICK: Weight Loss Energy Band
This plastic bracelet embeds green and silver hologram discs claimed to give off vibes that resonate throughout the body and stimulate weight loss and health. Among the alleged results are decreased appetite, balanced metabolism, balanced hormones¸ enhanced energy flow, increased energy levels and the promotion of positive emotions. A testimonial declares, “Since I bought my Pure Energy Band I have lost over 83Lbs and I feel fantastic.” Furthermore a disc does not even need to touch the skin—apparently it can hover at some distance. Supposedly, to be effective it “only needs to be within the body’s natural energy field. For most people, that is within two inches of the body.”
- Worst Claim: Ultimate Cleanse
Ultimate Cleanse cashes in on a popular quack theme: that the body must be detoxified regularly to get rid of wastes and toxins. An ideal scam, this notion sets up a problem that doesn't exist and puts forth a solution to snare the gullible. If it were true, people would not survive, as one FDA agent pointed out. The body is naturally self-cleaning. Aside from their basic silliness, cleansing programs are often high-risk, containing potent laxatives. Ultimate Cleanse combines cascara sagrada, a harsh laxative that in 2002 was banned as an ingredient in over-the-counter drugs, in a mix of herbs and fibers said to produce “2-3 bowel movements per day, while sweeping, toning, and cleansing the digestive and eliminative system.” Supposedly it cleanses in five areas (bowel, liver, kidneys, lungs and skin) as well as bloodstream, cells and body tissues. An Arizona man who used Ultimate Cleanse is suing the maker and seller charging that it caused perforation of his colon requiring two operations; his surgeon believes the perforation was caused by cascara segrada. There is no proven safe or effective dose for cascara, derived from the bark of a buckthorn plant. Long-term use may lead to potassium depletion, blood in the urine, disturbed heart function, muscle weakness, finger clubbing and cachexia (extreme weight loss). Regular use is linked to increased risk of hepatitis and colorectal cancer. Though banned as a drug, cascara sells in dietary supplements through a legal loophole.
- Worst Product: HCG Supplements
In a resurge in popularity of HCG injections among some practitioners and spas, this 1950s weight loss method has spawned excitement in the supplement field, as well. HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), a hormone produced during pregnancy, is claimed to reset the hypothalamus, improve metabolism and mobilize fat stores. However, there is no scientific evidence supporting HCG treatment as a weight or fat loss strategy. In its herbal versions, HCG drops are placed under the tongue (5 drops times 6 times a day or 10 drops, 3 times). Advertisers claim, “You easily can lose 1-2 pounds per day safely! Shed Excess Fat … HCG resets your hypothalamus so that your weight loss is permanent!” “HCG will melt fat permanently while maintaining muscle tone.” HCG does all this, it is claimed, without exercise. The caveat: the program requires a semi-starvation diet of 500 calories a day, with attendant severe risks to long-term health and almost guaranteed weight rebound. Further, the HCG program often begins with a liquid fast detox period. Common short-term effects include fatigue, headache, mood swings, depression, confusion, dizziness and stomach pain.
- Most Outrageous: Basic Research LLC
Basic Research, marketer of bogus products, carries an extensive history of FTC warnings, charges, fines and on-going lawsuits against multiple products. Basic Research, also doing business as Carter-Reed Company, has been a plaintiff or defendant in more than 40 suits filed in federal court in the past five years. In 2006, the FTC ordered the company to pay $3 million on behalf of six companies and three principals. Together with one of these, Akävar , Basic Research faces a class-action suit based on new charges for violating that order. Most recently Basic Research is being sued for false advertising in marketing “Jillian Michaels Maximum Strength Calorie Control” (Take Two Capsules Before Main Meals And You Lose Weight). Michaels, star and coach on the reality show, The Biggest Loser, gained a reputation as a credible fitness instructor before stumbling into the supplement quagmire, from which she now promotes her own Calorie Control, Fat Burner, Body Detox and Cleanse, and QuickStart Rapid Weight Loss System, marketing with Basic Research. (http://www.dietscam.org/reports/michaels.shtml ) Founded in 1992, based in Salt Lake City, Basic Research is listed as an international importer and wholesaler specializing in supplements, with an estimated annual income of $10.5 million.
- Worst Gimmick: Lapex BCS Lipo Laser
With full page advertisements in daily newspapers, LipoLaser promoters promise: “Lose 3 ½ - 7 inches of fat in 3 weeks. … proven inches lost, without diet or exercise … the LipoLaser is the only non-diet, non-invasive, pain-free way to lose inches of fat ... all effortlessly and easily.” Credible studies are missing to show this works. Supposedly, shining the lighted device on a pocket of fat gives results “almost exactly the same as exercise” only instead of “hormones opening the fat cells with exercise, the Laser light opens the fat cells—right through your skin. The same stuff comes out of the fat cells.” So excess fat is released and the fat cells shrink, or so it is claimed. The FDA classifies the device as an infrared lamp rather than a laser, so likely it is harmless. Yet the price is hefty: $1497 (on special 50% reduction) up to $5000 for the typical program of nine one-hour sessions. An online diet review site rates the LipoLaser treatment negatively, along with a user’s report, “Young girls administer the treatment and do not give you any eye protection even though they have warnings on the walls that laser is in process. I have had no good results for my $4000 and I want my money back. This is one of the biggest scams out there.” A self-identified professional confessed that about 80% of the “guests” who completed their series were dissatisfied with results.
- Worst Product: Hydroxycut. FDA warns consumers to immediately stop using Hydroxycut products from Iovate Health Sciences USA, a distributor for the Canadian company of the same name. FDA has received reports of one death due to liver failure and 23 reports of serious health problems ranging from jaundice and elevated liver enzymes to liver damage requiring liver transplant. Other problems include seizures, cardiovascular disorders and rhabdomyolysis, a type of muscle damage that can lead to other serious health problems such as kidney failure. Iovate has agreed to recall 14 hydroxycut products from the market. Their claims are that the diet products decrease body fat, control appetite, cause weight loss, enhance energy and that users can "lose up to 4-5 times the weight than diet and exercise alone."
- Most Outrageous: Pills spiked with powerful undisclosed drugs. This year FDA found so many diet pills secretly laced with powerful drugs that it was impossible for the Slim Chance selection panel to single out any, and could only group them together as “dangerous and outrageous.” FDA cited 69 weight loss “supplements” containing hidden, potentially harmful drugs or toxic substances, most imported from China, and says there may be hundreds more. In an analysis of 28 weight-loss products FDA found sibutramine (a controlled substance) in all of them; some also contained rimonabant, phenytoin or phenolphthalein. Sibutramine is associated with high blood pressure, seizures, tachycardia, palpitations, heart attack and stroke, and the potency in the pills tested as high as three times prescription doses. Rimonabant (not approved in the U.S.), has been linked to five deaths and 720 adverse reactions in Europe during the past two years, and to increased risk of seizures, depression, anxiety, insomnia, aggressiveness and suicidal thoughts. In October the European Medicines Agency recommended halting all sales of the drug. Phenolphthalein is a suspected cancer causing agent. FDA warned consumers not to buy or use any of the 28 products. (For more information go to www.fda.gov and search “tainted weight loss pills.”)
- Worst Claim: QVC shopping network. The popular TV home shopping channel QVC, one of the world’s largest multimedia retailers, has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it made false and unsubstantiated claims about four weight loss products. Charges are that QVC aired approximately 200 programs in which such claims were made about For Women Only weight loss pills, Lite Bites weight-loss food bars and shakes, Bee-Alive Royal Jelly, and Lipofactor Cellulite Target Lotion. This is not the first time the shopping channel has been charged with deception; QVC is in violation of a 2000 FTC order barring it from making deceptive claims. The latest claims say the products can cause significant long-term weight loss, prevent dietary fat from being absorbed, prevent carbohydrates from being stored as fat, reduce cellulite and decrease size or arms, legs and abdomens.
- Worst Gimmick: Kinoki Foot Pads. FTC is suing the marketers of Kinoki Foot Pads with deceptive advertising for their claims that applying the pads to the soles of feet at night will remove heavy metals, metabolic wastes, toxins, parasites, chemicals and cellulite from people’s bodies. The ads also claim that the foot pads can treat depression, fatigue, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. All this is based on the quack theory of reflexology, which holds that specific areas of the feet affect specifid organs and glands. Since the foot pads darken, this is claimed as evidence that toxins are being drawn out of the body, but investigators show the darkening is caused by moisture and has nothing to do with "toxins." For more, see "Detoxification" schemes and scams, at www.quackwatch.org .
- Most Outrageous: Kevin Trudeau infomercials
It’s rare that regulatory agencies look at books, given our free speech laws, but the infomercials for Kevin Trudeau’s weight loss book and his repeated violations were just too much for the Federal Trade Commission, and this past August he was fined over $5 million and banned from infomercials for three years. In “willful efforts” to deceive, Trudeau told listeners they could easily follow the diet protocol at home, even though his book calls for human growth hormone injections and colonics that must be done by a licensed practitioner. The tortured case began in 1998 when FTC charged Trudeau with false and misleading diet infomercials. In 2003 he was charged with false claims; in 2004 he was fined $2 million and banned from infomercials. Again in 2007 a contempt action said he misled thousands with false claims for his weight loss book “in flagrant violation” of court orders.
- Worst Gimmick: Skineez jeans ($139)
A new item in the fight against cellulite, Skineez jeans are impregnated with a so-called “medication” of retinol and chitosan, a shellfish product once claimed to cut fat absorption in the stomach (see 1999 Slim Chance Awards). Friction between the jeans and skin supposedly triggers release of the substance, which goes to work on fat when absorbed through the skin. Reportedly a big hit in Europe, the “smart fabric” is also used in lingerie. Ironically, the creators of Skineez, Clothes for a Cause, profess to raise funds for breast cancer and “a wide range of other socially conscious charities.” So while the company exploits and deceives women with an expensive pair of jeans, it assures them they can “do good with every purchase … As our sales grow, so will our ability to help others.” FTC, however, is clear about such gimmicks, emphasizing that products worn or rubbed on the skin do not cause weight loss or fat loss.
- Worst Product: Kimkins diet
It must have seemed an easy way to get rich quick. Founder Heidi “Kimmer” Diaz set up a website and charged members a fee to access the Kimkins diet, boasting they could lose up to 5 percent of their body weight in 10 days. “Better than gastric bypass,” there was “no faster diet,” and in fact she herself had lost 198# in 11 months. Stunning “after” photos were displayed. In June 2007 Women's World ran it as a cover story, and that month alone PayPal records show the Kimkins site took in over $1.2 million. Then users began complaining of chest pains, hair loss, heart palpitations, irritability and menstrual irregularities. This was not surprising since Kimkins is essentially a starvation diet, down to 500 calories per day and deficient in many nutrients (shockingly, laxatives are advised to replace the missing fiber). In a lawsuit, 11 former members are uncovering a vast record of Diez’s alleged fraud. They found that the stunning “after” photos, including one of Kimmer herself, had been lifted from a Russian mail order bride site. According to a deposition reported by Los Angeles TV station KTLA, Diaz admitted using fake pictures, fake stories and fake IDs, and a judge has allowed the litigants to freeze some of her assets.
- Worst Claim: AbGONE
Throughout 2008 full page ads assaulted the eye in daily newspapers across the country touting AbGONE as “proven to promote pot belly loss.” Claims are that AbGONE increases “fat metabolism” and calorie burn, promotes appetite suppression and inhibits future abdominal fat deposits. These are drug claims that, if true, would alter the body’s regulation, but unlike drugs, the pills are sold as food supplements not requiring FDA approval. The bold ads feature the obligatory before and after shots of models, cut-away sketches of the abdomen with and without belly fat, and a white-coated researcher with chart purportedly confirming success of 5 times reduction in fat mass, 4 times lower BMI, 4 times greater weight loss than placebo. No added diet and exercise needed – well, except, you may want to heed the fine print disclaimer at the bottom that reminds us “diet and exercise are essential.”
- Most Outrageous: Evercleanse
Ads claim that being overweight or having a protruding abdomen are symptoms of a toxic colon. “You must detoxify your body … Yes – 6 to 40 pounds of undigested food, waste and feces are stuck inside our bodies.”
- Worst Gimmick: Hollywood Detox Body Wrap
Claimed to draw toxins out through the skin and cause long term loss of 4 to 6 inches in less than an hour.
- Worst Product: HoodiaHerbal
The FTC in August called a halt to illegal emails and Web form hijacking from spammers of HoodiaHerbal (also called Hoodia Maximum Strength) and charged they falsely claimed their supposed “hoodia” products cause permanent weight loss of as much as 40 pounds a month.
- Worst Claim: Bio SpeedSLIM
Billed as a major breakthrough that without any change in eating or activity: reduces pot belly, waist, hips, BMI and weight; suppresses hunger and cravings; promotes burning of excess body fat and gain of lean body mass. Also markets colon cleansing.
- Most Outrageous: Isacleanse
The detox idea is seemingly the perfect scam - it sets up a problem that doesn't exist, then provides a solution. Ads for Isacleanse warn of toxins building up, clogging organs and deteriorating the body - unless regularly detoxified. (This doesn't happen as the human body is naturally self-cleaning.) A "healthier, leaner body" is promised in 30 days through ingesting a medicine chest full of Isagenix cures including IsaFlush for "regularity," diuretics, aloe pills, vitamins, ionic trace minerals, electrolyte drinks, Isalean Shakes and herbal teas. For those who are frankly more interested in wealth-building, Isagenix turns a neat trick; on the same web page it alternately pushes a get-rich-quick scheme for deceiving others about the need to detoxify.
- Worst Gadget: Magic Ear Staple
What's new is that this is a real staple, piercing the band of cartilage in the upper ear where, supposedly, it presses on an acupressure point that curbs appetite. It's newly illegal in Florida. Recent damaging publicity in Mississippi was related to infections from "underground operations in parking garages, bathrooms, coin laundries and the back seats of cars," complains Marie Fallow, a Mississippi-based ear stapler. Fallow says she has stapled ears of some 3,000 clients, is doing 2,400 new ears a month, and charges $75 for both ears. Training offered by chiropractor Carissa Hamilton-Toups of southern Louisiana costs $850 for one afternoon class (in which students staple each other) or $1200 for a private session. Trainees leave armed with two staple guns, a set of rubber ears, staple remover, paperwork to immediately get started in the stapling business, and a warning: remove staples in four weeks or risk severe infection and the staples becoming embedded.
- Worst Product: PediaLean
Advertised in tabloids and magazines including the Enquirer and Redbook, PediaLean is a fiber capsule claimed to cause substantial weight loss in overweight children. Allegedly it is "clinically proven safe and effective for use by overweight children and adolescents," but experts say the Italian study offered provides no valid scientific proof, is poorly-designed, had a high dropout rate, and revealed abdominal discomfort in many of the children tested. Its active ingredient glucomannan is known to swell in the body and can clump and form an obstructive mass, sometimes causing esophageal and gastrointestinal obstruction. PediaLean is one of six weight loss products for which the FTC, as of May 2006, is requiring payment of $3 million to settle deceptive claim violations.
- Worst Claim: ChitoGenics
Billing himself as a "consumer advocate and trouble-shooter," Texas radio personality Tom Martino tells listeners ChitoGenics has transformed his once chubby body to rock hard. ChitoGenic ads laud his credibility: "Tired of false claims and advertising? So are we! You can believe what this man says … Tom has made a distinguished career of exposing liars, cheats, rip-offs and scams… when he likes something … you can bet it works!" The ChitoGenic stable of cures for the person who wants to lose, say, "20 pounds in one week … without dieting" includes ChitoGold, ChitoGenics Mahuang, PowerUp Weight Loss Formula and Plus Chito Patches. Claims to be the "leader when it comes to blending herbs that effectively block sugars, carbohydrates, and fats in your diet … combined with a natural appetite suppressant fat and filtering for cholesterol health." (Undisclosed: kickbacks to radio hosts.)
- Most Outrageous: Shape Up with Dr Phil
"Dr. Phil" McGraw often gives good advice, but he let down his fans when he decided to hype his worthless diet pills. His literature promises the pills contain "scientifically researched levels of ingredients," but there was no real testing or real clinical trials. One gimmick sorted customers into "apple" and "pear" shapes to personalize supplement choices, then added 10 or more "intensifier" pills to take it all to the "next level" of weight loss, for a total of 22 pills a day at $120 a month.Under a recent Federal Trade Commission investigation, CSA Nutraceuticals, which made the Shape Up supplements, shakes, bars and multivitamins, has stopped production. In October, fraud charges that could turn into a nation-wide class-action lawsuit were filed by three users in Los Angeles. Dr. Phil protests that he donates the proceeds to a personal foundation that helps fight obesity in children. How's that again, doctor?
- Worst Gimmick: Body Shape by Hydroderm.
This lotion is being sold as the alternative to cosmetic surgery because otherwise, of course, surgery will be needed to perfect the body marred by "cellulite." Since lotions do not penetrate the skin and have no effect on so-called cellulite (an inherited condition characterized by an orange-peel like appearance, usually on the thighs), another bogus claim is made. Body Shape by Hydroderm touts "a scientific liposome delivery system" to transport the active ingredients directly through the skin into the fat cells. Massaged into the skin twice a day for 30 to 60 seconds, it is claimed to dehydrate and shrink fat cells as well as reduce cellulite. Some of its "250,000" users supposedly testify that it did indeed help them avoid plastic surgery, and dramatically changed their lives. Research, anyone?
- Worst Product: Nutrathin With Hoodia
The gimmick here is that the plant Hoodia is supposedly a miracle cure for overweight that originates with the Bushmen of the Kalahari Desert of South Africa. CBS aired a 60-Minutes puff story on Hoodia last November, portraying the plant as a "natural substance that literally takes your appetite away… Scientists say it fools the brain by making you think you're full, even if you've eaten just a morsel." The idea is that Bushmen have eaten this plant for thousands of years to assuage their hunger when starving, and look how thin they are! (Never mind that thinness is a given for hunter-gatherers, running and scavenging all day for food.) Since the CBS story, hoodia has blossomed on the quackery scene and has been added as an ingredient -- or more likely the ghost of an ingredient -- to many diet products. The pseudo-scientific claim for Nutrathin With Hoodia is that it works within the satiety center by releasing a chemical compound similar to glucose but much stronger: "You not only suppress your appetite and avoid overeating, you literally stop being obsessed over food." Again, where's the research?
- Worst Claim: Jana Skinny Water
Another foolish craze to hit the shelves recently is this bottled water that claims to help people lose weight. As if a no-calorie water that is less likely to add pounds than real water makes sense. How ridiculous is that? Claims are that this "100% natural water" with its added "essential nutrients" helps reduce body weight, curbs appetite, blocks carbohydrates and increases fat burning, without stimulating the nervous system, and gives you a "pure water taste with a hint of fresh lemon." Where's the research to support these otherwise illegal drug claims, as the FTC requires? Advice is to drink 3 to 4 bottles of Jana Skinny Water daily at a cost of about $6.30 a day. The "aquaceuticals" fad started in Japan and hit the U.S. and Britain last year.
- Most Outrageous: EstrinD
Billed as the first and only diet pill for menopausal and pre-menopausal weight gain, EstrinD hits a market of baby boomers. Targeted are “a whole generation of women … [who are] redefining age, beauty and sexuality, proving that life doesn’t end at 40.” Touted to increase metabolic rate, reduce calorie intake, stop binge eating, provide energy, control mood swings, and give a sense of well being, EstrinD costs $59.00 for 30-day supply (and “as demand continues to outpace supply, don’t be surprised if you see the price go up”). Promoted with nearly full-page ad in USA WEEKEND.
- Worst Gimmick: Green Tea300 patches
This scheme includes not just Green Tea Patches of “high potency extract” to attach to your skin, but also green tea drinking. In fact four patches come free when you buy $59.99 worth of tea. It’s a combination claimed to burn fat, suppress appetite, increase thermogenesis, and speed the metaboic rate, all without increasing hypertension or heart rate. Can you believe you’ll benefit from “Asian wisdom … lose 5-27 pounds … 30 times more potent than regular green tea”? Advertised online through email spam.
- Worst Product: CortiSlim
The gimmick here falsely claims that reducing cortisol, the stress hormone, with CortiSlim will reduce abdominal and other fat. Nationally aired infomercials that began in August 2003 state that continually elevated levels of cortisol are the underlying cause of weight gain, especially abdominal obesity, and that CortiSlim causes rapid weight loss of 10 to 50 pounds from the abdomen, stomach and thighs by reducing these levels. In October 2004 the Federal Trade Commission charged the marketers of CortiSllim with false claims, and with using deceptive format in their TV infomercials, which appear to be episodes of a talk show called Breakthroughs, with the two marketers posing as host and guest, and without required “paid advertising” disclaimers. Sold through widely aired infomercials and short TV commercials, radio and print ads and Internet web sites.
- Worst Claim: Carboburn
Keying in to the waning popularity of tiresome low-carb diets, Carboburn promoters assure dieters who are still believers that cutting carbs from the diet is no longer necessary. “It doesn’t matter if you eat pizza, pasta, baked potatoes, or potato chips. CarboBurn will neutralize the carbohydrates in those foods or most any other…guaranteeing you become thinner, leaner, and maintain a good-looking youthful shape.” Furthermore, it will “block the storage of fat before it attaches to your stomach, waist, thighs, buns and other trouble areas … and it doesn’t matter if you hate exercise, or can’t exercise … CarboBurn will chisel your fat away and let lean muscle shine through.” Just $39.00 for one bottle of pills or three for $79.99. Advertised online through email spam.
- Most Outrageous: Himalayan Diet Breakthrough
Half-page ads in newspapers across the country hype the Himalayan Diet Breakthrough as triggering a “chemical switch that controls your weight.” Supposedly the ultra-fast acting formula combines a miracle mineral from the Himalayan Mountains with 7 other highly-unusual, hard-to-find ingredients in a synergistic way that makes each even more effective at producing high speed weight loss. Top fashion models are said to lose “53 pounds in just 47 days!”
Outrageous claims include: “Burns off more fat than running 98 miles per week! Incredibly effective. Safe, rapid and dramatic weight loss. Permanent weight loss made easy. Stokes your body’s fat burning furnace. Destroys fat. Flushed right out of your body! Promotes the burn-off of body fat and prevents it from being stored. Reduce cravings for sugar and fatty foods. Natural and so safe. Lifetime guarantee…double-your-money-back!
Like similar scams, this one sets up a toll free number and post office box for orders, and offers a money-back guarantee, which usually proves worthless. Then the money pours in from vulnerable customers throughout the country – perhaps more than the $1.1 million clocked by the FTC in a similar newspaper advertisement scheme. People may think their newspaper has reviewed and found the ad trustworthy, and would not defraud its readers. Not true. Some newspapers are left with unpaid bills when the promoter disappears with the cash – or ships it to an off shore bank. The Himalayan Diet Breakthrough is sold by AVS Marketing of Thomson, Illinois.
- Worst Gimmick: MagnaSlim
Combining the unproven theories of magnetic therapy and accupressure, MagnaSlim is a “breakthrough in weight loss technology” that is said to control appetite and reduce stress and anxiety eating when worn at the wrist. Acupressure has been a favorite gimmick of weight loss promoters for years, usually zeroing in on a jazzy item that presses on so-called appetite centers on ears or wrists. Earrings or adhesives press beads, seeds or other hard substances against these points. Or patches are soaked with herbal potions and attached in snake-oil-on-a-band-aid fashion. What’s new here is that MagnaSlim contains “5 Proprietary blended magnets,” along with a “magnetized solution,” that supposedly gives relief from hunger cravings. The magnetic field is claimed to penetrate every cell, realigning incorrectly positioned ions within the cells. Proper flow of “Chi” is restored by massage or heat at acupuncture points, which “polarizes Chi energy.” Also sold as Magna 1.
- Worst product: Metabadrine
Cashing in on the fact that state laws are shutting out ephedra, and major manufacturers have pulled it from their weight loss products, the makers of Metabadrine tell customers to hurry – California is one more state banning ephedra, and even Congress may step in.
“Ephedra is not a dirty word here. We have had to change the name of our products and the color of our labels because of lawsuits from major companies… We copied the Xenadrine with Ephedra formula! … Metabadrine has the same ingredients, same quality, giving the same results.” And of course never before did pills produce weight loss of the “extraordinary magnitude” of those replaced. “This is potent stuff so head the warnings!!… Do not exceed four capsules a day.” The company, Gorilla Vitamins, also sells HCAMAX and MatabaLITE, both containing ephedra.
Texas was first to ban ephedra-laced diet pills, followed by Florida and Illinois, sparked by the death of an Illinois 16-year-old football player who died of a heart attack after using the diet supplement. A national ban is urged by the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, and athletic groups such as the NBA, NFL, and the International Olympic Committee.
- Worst Claim: Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss Formula
Body Solutions peddled their product by employing 678 popular, trusted radio personalities and disk jockeys on 755 U.S. radio stations; testifying to their own weight loss and promising listeners in both English and Spanish they would lose as much as 40 pounds a month permanently without exercise, diet or limiting high calorie foods. Furthermore, like the irresponsible disk jockey promoters who made these claims, they’d lose weight while they slept.
The Federal Trade Commission spent two years investigating, found the company’s so-called research “fatally flawed,” and brought suit. They finally reached an agreement that the company, Mark Nutritionals, based in San Antonio, Texas, would drop the term “weight loss” from the name Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss Formula and stop making deceptive claims.
An estimated 1.5 million people shelled out $190 million in three years for the $39.95 to $60 bottles of the strawberry-flavored formula. Customers were demanding refunds but couldn’t get their money back. Lawyers for angry customers are seeking more than $190 million. Fittingly perhaps, radio networks whose personalities pitched the product are out $37 million in unpaid bills. Prompted by this debacle, FTC recently released guidelines to warn the media about carrying ads that promise more than they can deliver. However, several Texas station managers said they see nothing unethical about their weight-loss testimonials.
FTC reached a $1 million settlement in December. The company filed for bankruptcy protection but continued to operate through 2003, suggesting their agreement with FTC is just a reorganization effort, “part of our commitment to lead the industry by example.”
Most Outrageous: Trim Spa
The most outrageous promotion of the year has to be the newspaper ad plastered across two full pages in numerous newspapers across the country in October for Nutramerica’s Trim Spa “High-Speed” weight loss pill that “forces fat to leave your body!” The two-page ad consists mostly of testimonials and before and after photos, in which it’s doubtful the same people are pictured, since the “after’s” appear to be models and are quite unlike the “before’s” who seem ordinary people in slouched poses.
The pill contains three mysterious ingredients and mysterious ways of fighting fat with “thermogenic (fat destroying) influences,” none of which are clearly explained. Weight loss testimonials claim 39 pounds in 11 weeks, 46 pounds in 3 months, and totals of 63, 85, and 100 pounds.
But in tiny, tiny, almost unreadable type at the bottom come the disclaimers: Results not typical. This product has ephedrine group alkaloids and may cause serious adverse effects. Not for sale to persons 17 years of age or younger in Texas. Models have been compensated for photos.
This promotion recalls the 1989 full-page weight loss tea ads placed in 105 prominent U.S. newspapers, including the LA Times and Washington Post, by Australian Peter Foster, who bilked consumers on three continents. (Yes, the same Peter Foster now back in England and recently linked in a minor scandal to the wife of Prime Minister Tony Blair.)
Worst Gimmick: L’Patch
We haven’t seen the last – or probably the worst – of “Snake-oil on a Band-Aid,” which quack watchers liken to “putting nothing on no place,” but here’s the latest. L’Patch is billed as an advanced appetite suppressant and metabolism booster. According to internet ads, this diet patch carries a triple threat: “helps lessen hunger pangs, jump-starts your metabolism, increases your body’s ability to burn fat.”
Directions call for sticking a patch on the wrist or arm once a day. Claims are that the herbal formula is not a drug, just “medication” that is “absorbed immediately into the skin … goes straight into the bloodstream where it goes to work at once, and will keep on working for up to 12 hours.” No “starvation diets” or “difficult and dangerous exercise” [dangerous?]. Testimonials claim weight losses of 20 pounds in the first month. L’Patch is advertised in email spam and on a website.
Worst product: Gorayeb Hypnosis Seminars
A self-styled hypnotist, Ron Gorayeb and his therapist/marketer employees travel the United States, booking his seminar into hotel rooms and advertising in local media. “Guaranteed results…. You will lose the weight you want without dieting, without hunger and without cravings. … The hypnosis is designed to eliminate negative eating habits, such as impulsive/compulsive eating, addiction to sweets and late night snacking. ... You will be in a relaxed, pleasant state of concentrated hypnosis that directly affects your subconscious and conscious minds.”
Audacious claims of the past are toned down a bit since 1994 when the Federal Trade Commission charged Gorayeb with false and misleading claims, and obtained a cease and desist agreement from him. Undaunted, he bounced back stronger than ever and now claims to have given his weight loss seminar to over 275,000 people in two decades. (He also has a smoking cessation seminar.)
At entrance fees of $39 that’s nearly $11 million. But it’s only the beginning. Hooking the mark into buying more is the code of the hustler. In this case, neither ads nor website mention other items. Likely it’s more profitable to wait until attendees are in that “relaxed, pleasant” hypnotic state before insisting on their need for the overpriced hypnosis tape power packs ($155 to $275) and supplement pills ($30 to $80).
Hard-sell techniques are used to push more products at “discounted” but higher prices, reports an Illinois customer who wrote a check for $200. She was reassured by the absolute, iron-clad guarantee promising full refund. But later, when she wanted to return the product, due to a rash, itching and swelling, she was refused. Her money was returned when she wrote a letter threatening exposure.
Worst Claim: Ultimate HGH 1000
HGH (Human Growth Hormone) ads are big on the internet today, advertised by supplement dealers as a technique newly made available, although this scheme, too, has been around for years. The ads for Ultimate HGH 1000 make it sound like a cure-all. It’s touted not just for improvements in “body fat loss,” but also “wrinkle reduction, energy level, muscle strength, emotional stability.” With this product, you can look forward to “a flat tummy, more energy, trim thighs, erase cellulite, lose those wrinkles, tighter skin, sleep better, more lean muscle, sexual potency, increased memory.” What’s more, you’ll “look and feel 20 years younger.”
The ads explain that HGH is produced by the pituitary gland, but after age 25 to 30, HGH levels diminish up to 80 percent, associated with aging. “The Ultimate HGH 1000 capsules stimulate the pituitary gland to produce and distribute youthful levels of HGH … it increases your metabolism [and] causes your body to burn fat while you sleep!” Cost is $79.95 for just one month. Two similar HGH ads recently distributed by email spam are Natural-Force and BioSlim Plus.
Most Outrageous: Blast Away Fat
Uses apple pectin to "seek and destroy enemy fat" and leads people to believe they can lose as much as 60 pounds in 90 days.
Worst Gimmick: Slenderstrip
This repeat winner of the worst gimmick award is a snake oil-on-a-band-aid type of magical cure with the false claim that you can lose weight by attaching the strip to your body.
Worst Product: Hollywood 48 Hour Diet
Advertises that you can lose a dress size over the week-end.
Worst Claim: Super-Crash Diet
Supposedly "turns ugly fat into harmless water which flows right out of your body by the hour!" and can shrink you "a full size smaller" in 24 hours.
Most Outrageous: Weigh Out
"It doesn't matter how much weight you have to lose: 20, 40, 100, or 200+ pounds. This will change your life forever."
Worst Gadget: Slimming Slippers
Advertising copy claims: "The Get Slim slippers ... using reflexology science, magnets, and the laws of gravity to get slim! ... Increase your metabolism naturally [and] stimulate the untouched sole of the foot, thus activating the nerves responsible for digestion and eating habits."
Worst Product: 16-Plant Macerat Weight Loss Plan
"Recent experiments have shown that the extract of the 16 plants, when combined together, can reverse the effect of calories. In other words, instead of transforming calories into fat, the calories are consumed and eliminated by natural means ... some people have lost 13 pounds the first week."
Worst Claim: Hydro-Gel Slim Patch
"The remarkable dual fat-fighting ingredients, Fucus and Guaranine ... boost your metabolism ... your very own secret `fat furnace' ... helping incinerate away your repulsive excess adipose tissue."
Most Outrageous: Metabolife 356
It is outrageous that a hot new herbal weight loss product which can be dangerous, launched by a promoter with a 1990 conviction on methamphetamine lab charges, apparently came close to sales of $1 billion last year. Metabolife 356 combines caffeine and ephedra (ma huang), both heart and nervous system stimulants, and claims to increase metabolic rate while increasing your energy level. Business took off for Michael Ellis about five years ago when he set up a multilevel marketing program whereby customers can become independent dealers.
The Food and Drug Administration has warned against consuming dietary supplements containing ephedra or ephedrine alkaloids, because of the many adverse reports it has received (over 800 between 1994 and 1997 including nine deaths, most of them healthy and relatively young adults). In 1997, FDA proposed to prohibit the marketing of dietary supplements containing 8 mg or more of ephedrine alkaloids per serving (Metabolife reportedly contains 12 mg), to require labeling that recommends an intake of less than 24 mg per day and not more than 7-day usage, and to prohibit the addition of other stimulants such as caffeine, because it increases the stimulant effects and chance of injury. It also proposed a label warning: "Taking more than the recommended serving may result in heart attack, stroke, seizure or death." Other FDA reports range from nervousness, headaches, tremors, and insomnia, to high blood pressure, heart rate irregularities, chest pain, stroke, psychosis, and death. The FDA proposal remains under review.
Worst Gadget: Cellulift
Resembling a toy highway packer set with rows of wheels, this electrically powered gadget supposedly "glides over skin, flattens the appearance of cellulite by means of heat and vacuum from front and rear rollers." Instructions are to apply a special massage gel twice a day to thighs and buttocks, leaving it on for 5 minutes, then starting up the toy packer/massager and tracking it back and forth over the area for 10 to 15 minutes. One is led to believe that the motorized rollers squeeze and massage the skin layer, while heat penetrates deeply and suction provides the special lifting action called "cellumotion." The truth is that "cellulite" is a quack term for ordinary fat that on some women appears texturized, especially on the upper legs. It's an inherited condition that shows up more with age as skin becomes thinner and connective tissue less elastic. The Cellulift costs $99.95, as advertised in WorldTraveler magazine.
Worst Product: Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution
A diet that just won't go away, though often disparaged by nutritionists, is Dr. Robert Atkins' low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet, first published in 1972, and recycled in recent years as "Dr. Atkins' New Diet Revolution." Carbohydrates are Atkins' arch villain. The diet's popularity stems from the rapid weight loss that comes from water depletion of the cells and a breakdown of lean body mass. The body produces ketones from fat in an effort to fuel activity and slow the breakdown of lean tissue. Since Atkins' diet is deficient in many nutrients, he recommends an extensive list of vitamin and mineral supplements – which he just happens to sell. He admits his dieters may experience constipation, fatigue, and insomnia. Other complications associated with low carb diets are ketosis, dehydration, electrolyte loss, calcium depletion, weakness, nausea, and possibly kidney problems. Fortunately, most people will not stick with this diet for long.
Worst Claim: Chitosan
Chitosan or chitin is being sold under time-tested names like "Fat Magnet," "Fat Blocker," "Fat Trapper" and "Fat Absorb." Promoters claim this indigestible fiber of crushed crab and lobster shells causes rapid weight loss by assist in weight loss [and to] binding fats in the stomach, preventing them from being digested, and that it lowers cholesterol. Two studies show no differences in weight or cholesterol reduction between chitosan and placebo groups, even in short-term effects. Safety claims may also be misleading ó side effects have not been studied for more than two weeks, according to one expert. Risks can include fat-soluble vitamin depletion and increased calcium excretion leading to loss of bone density.
Most Outrageous: Slim America
The Slim America campaign is outrageous for their full-page ads in major newspapers across the country claiming Super-Formula pills will block fat absorption, curb appetite, and speed metabolism, and netting $9.5 million within 12 months. The ads are outrageously flagrant and profitable. Big headlines arrest the reader's attention: "Blast up to 49 pounds off you in only 29 days!" "Obliterates up to 5 inches from your waistline... Zaps 3 inches from your thighs before you know it!" The pills were touted as "embarrassingly cheap" at $89.95 for 60 days. The Federal Trade Commission moved quickly to freeze company assets, but most of the money had disappeared. Slim America, 777 S. State Road 7, #15, Margate, FL 33068.
Worst Gimmick: Ace Bandage Wrap
Lose inches while cleansing the "environmental poisons" from your body, is the mystical claim for this Ace bandage treatment. The theory is that toxins continually enter our bodies, which fight back by diluting the poisons with more fluid around the cells, causing our bodies to swell and become puffy with cellulite. After being swathed head to toe in wet, mineral-soaked Ace bandages, the body supposedly absorbs the secret minerals, which triggers a release of toxins into plastic bags fastened onto hands and feet, thus shrinking the person "6 to 20 inches." Suddenly Slim charges $79 for this shriveling service, even suggesting it might be done as many as 4 times a day for special events such as one's wedding. Available in spas and weight loss centers.
Worst Product: Herbal Weight Loss Tea
Herbal diet tea sounds harmless, but in fact it often contains potent laxatives, diuretics or other drugs that can cause abdominal cramps, nausea, fainting, breathing difficulties, fluctuation in body temperature, diarrhea, and even death. In June 1998 the death certificate for Debbie Helphrey, 20, of Palm Harbor, Florida, was amended to show the cause of death as drinking Laci Le Beau Super Dieter's Tea, which led to an electrolyte imbalance and cardiac arrhythmias. At least four deaths have been reported. The most severe effects have been observed in women who drank the diet tea in excess amounts or over a period of time, and also were restricting food. Directions often urge this-to use the tea regularly and increase dosage if the "cleansing" effects wear off. This would not be allowed with similar over-the-counter products, experts point out. Many herbal diet teas are on the market, unregulated and nonstandardized as to ingredients or potency. Available from supplement dealers.
Worst Claim: Calorad
Calorad claims to help you lose fat while gaining muscle. Its main ingredient is collagen, a poor quality, incomplete protein, with aloe vera for laxative effect, and the mild sweetener glycerin masking an offensive taste. Another multi-level marketing promotion that promises to fix what ails you, to give you "better sleep, muscle toning, improved overall fitness, and increased energy," while helping you shed fat and replace it with muscle, all without exercising. It has the potential for serious protein malnutrition if relied upon totally, as some users apparently do. Instructions are to eat nothing for 3 hours before going to bed, take the powdered collagen at bedtime and upon waking in the morning, to "help you sustain daytime energy levels with the added advantage of endurance and stamina." Athletes are told to take Calorad 30 minutes before a work out. Available from supplement dealers.
Most Outrageous: Phena-Drene/MD
It's the most outrageous claim we've seen - that this pill turns fat to water. Phena-Drene/MD's Midas touch "turns ugly fat into harmless water. . . and flows it right out of your body by the gallon!" Supposedly it works so fast you'll shrink a full size in 24 hours, four sizes in two weeks, lose up to 10 inches off your waist, 6 inches off your thighs, 6 inches off your buttocks, 8 inches off your stomach. "Your very first capsule will start to melt down fat just like hot water melts down ice." And there's a litany of "medical school proof" from "California Medical School," "London University," and the promoters' own offices at the "U.S. Obesity Research Center" in Palm Harbor, Florida.
Worst Gadget: Elysee Body Toner Belt
The latest in battery-operated, passive exercise belts, this one is claimed to contract your muscles 300 times a minute, a "total workout" touted to reduce sagging and "cellulite." The belt's four pads supposedly deliver only gentle shocks that promote this muscle contraction. But as you turn the dial up so it can be felt, you get a nasty shock where you least expect it - right on your "protruding tummy, sagging breasts, or drooping buns." Sold from Sunday newspaper inserts and full-page magazine ads. Health Direct, New York, New York.
Worst Product: DHEA Life Plus
The search for the Fountain of Youth is now ended, along with discovery of this new, easy way to lose body fat, claim quack promoters of the hormone DHEA (dehydroepian-drosterone). But to affect weight, if indeed this much-maligned hormone could, would require doses so high they would have harmful side effects, experts warn. Although the source of DHEA is animal, supplement promoters claim to have discovered a "natural precursor" in the wild yam of China and Japan. DHEA is heavily advertised in herbal catalogs, health food stores, and on the internet in the usual quack locations. Lifestyle's DHEA Cream Gel is applied to "pulse points" such as back of the wrist, throat and inner thigh, from where "It's absorbed directly into the blood stream!" $29.95 from Lifestyle Fascination, Lakewood, New Jersey.
Worst Claim: Herbal Cleansing & Detox Program
There's an elaborate hoax gaining ground with quacks and their victims today: the human body is so filled with toxins that it needs to be detoxified or cleansed regularly to avoid illness. Thus the clever con artist has invented a problem for which he/she just happens to have the solution. The Herbal Cleansing & Detox Program by Botanic Gardens of Hammond, Indiana, advises a regimen of fasting, special tea and herbal tablets. Claimed benefits include weight control and improved immune system, as well as feeling "younger, better, healthier and happier." Cost $29.90.
Most Outrageous: Absorbit-ALL PLUS
Full-page newspaper ads across the country in July 1996 touted Absorbit-ALL PLUS in blaring headlines, all the more ridiculous in this day of cautious claims. "Guaranteed to blast up to 49 pounds off you in only 29 days! . . . Blocks up to 15 times its weight in fat, blasts up to 50% of your body fat in record time, obliterates up to 5 inches from your waistline, and zaps 3 inches from your thighs before you know it!" Just more chromium picolinate mixed with mysterious ingredients like "Asian root . . . fat blockers" in a pill that "stimulates your metabolic rate and prevents lean muscle loss while the fat just melts away!" Cost: $49.95 + $5.95 shipping and handling, for 30-day supply. SlimAmerica Inc., Deerfield Beach, Florida.
Worst Gadget: Slimming Insoles
Insoles that slip into your shoes are covered with small knobs, and cause "weight loss with every step you take" are one of the most highly advertised weight loss gadgets on the market today. The knobs are claimed to stimulate foot reflex centers that control kidneys, bladder and stomach through acupressure—"a 5,000 year old Chinese therapy." The theory is that weight problems are often linked to "under-performance of the dietary system." Therefore, when these organs are primed to function efficiently through acupressure your metabolism "works normally and does not store fat!" Testimonials claim no dieting or exercise needed: "I lost 74 pounds!" Cost $19.95. Body Well USA, New York, N.Y.
Worst Product: Equinox Weight Management System
The Equinox Weight Management System is an herbal program based on the quack theory that our bodies must be detoxified for proper balance and function of digestive and enzyme systems. It includes Equilizer Fast Start capsules (claimed to suppress appetite, stimulate calorie consumption and burn fat), Equi-lizer Steady Burn capsules (claimed to increase thermogenesis and stabilize appetite), Equi-lizer NightTime Formula (claimed to promote weight loss while you sleep, reduce sugar's ability to produce fat, reduce toxins, and help detoxify your body), Protein Plus ChromeMate capsules ("essential to keep calorie-burning capacity at its peak"), Equi-vites Multi-vitamin tablets, and Equi-lizer Almond Bars. Combination costs about $164 a month. Multi-level company. Equinox, Las Vagas, Nevada.
Worst Claim: Svelt PATCH
The Svelt PATCH—a stick-on patch to be attached anywhere on the body—purportedly absorbs fat, triggers fat burning, speeds up metabolism, stimulates thyroid, fights water retention, prevents muscle loss, controls appetite, and maintains weight loss, all illegal drug claims. "Fucus—a natural algae" is the active ingredient here, supposedly absorbed from the patch into the body. Each patch lasts 24 hours, and a four-week supply costs $42.95. Svelt-PATCH International, Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, and additional locations in Massachusetts and Illinois.
Most Outrageous: Mushroom tea
Variously called Mushroom tea, Kombucha, Fungus, Kargasok, Manchurian, or Kvass tea, this outrageous brew is made by adding tea, water and sugar to a fermented starter batter of yeast and bacteria. Burning body fat and causing weight loss are only two of some 50 benefits claimed for the tea. Others are curing AIDS and cancer, and detoxifying the body. Many claims relate to looking and feeling younger. "Drink black tea in the morning for energy, green tea in the evening to improve the immune system," advise promoters.
W'hen an Iowa woman died and another became ill after drinking the tea, the Iowa health department issued a warning. The FDA also warns the mushroom tea may be harmful. AIDS patients, many of whom are drinking the popular tea to bolster their immune systems, may risk most harm, said the National Council Against Health Fraud.
Worst Gadget: Ninzu ear clips
A device that fits on the ear and is claimed to suppress appetite through acupressure, Ninzu is one of three such gadgets in three questionable companies run by a Baltimore man. Other ear clips promoted by Michael Metzger with similar claims are Auricle Clip and B-Trim. "The proven principles of acupuncture without needles! In just seconds your hunger pains disappear. You eat less, you lose weight quickly. . . It's safe and it works. We guarantee it. Wearing Ninzo for less than 3 hours a day will produce dramatic results." The FTC charges that claims for the three ear clips are false and misleading.
Worst Product: Ephedrine-laced diet pills
Ephedrine is sold legally as a nasal decongestant, even when "asthma" pills are suggestively named Mini Thin. It avoids drug regulation entirely in the form of the Chinese herb ma huang. Two suspected deaths and 37 hospitalizations in Texas resulted in a temporary state ban on the popular ephedrine-containing diet pill Formula One. Herbalife's big weight loss seller Thermojetics, boasting the popular ingredient "Chinese Ma Huang," reportedly brings in 40 percent of the company's U.S. sales, about $70 million. Side effects of the drug are heart damage, stroke, increased blood pres-sure and seizures, especially when abused—and it's clear that diet pills often are abused. In the past two years, FDA reports some 330 adverse reactions to ephedrine-containing products, primarily ma huang, including about a dozen deaths.
Worst Claim: Gorayeb Hypnosis seminars
The worst claim of the year promises large, rapid weight loss upon at-tending a single two-hour Gorayeb hypnosis seminar. "You can expect results ranging from 30-60 Ibs. in 3 months to 120 Ibs. in one year." There's more, of course, "No willpower, no hunger, no dieting, just success. Using the power of hypnosis, you will lose unwanted cravings, eliminate the addiction to sweets and break the compulsive eating habit—once and for all. Stop having weight as an issue in your life." In related smoking-cessesation hypnosis seminars, Ronald Gorayeb claims participants will stop smoking without gaining any weight. The Federal Trade Commission called the Gorayeb claims false, misleading and in violation of the FTC Act.
Most Outrageous: Herbalife’s Thermojetics
It is outrageous that two large unappetizing, worthless pills can pull in an estimated $70 million in U.S. annual sales alone, 40 percent of Herbalife sales here. And that U.S. sales are only 25 percent of Herbalife’s worldwide $700 milion annual haul. The money rolls in if enough people take every day these two large barnyard-brown pills and six large greenish pills, giving off the herbal aura that pays Herbalife so well.
The name Thermojetics slyly suggests increased heat and fat burning, but Herbalife is cautious. Hit many times for violations and fraudulent and misleading claims, Herbalife merely suggests the pills help you lose weight by “creating a more desirable energy balance in the body.” Its ingredient Chinese Ma Huang has been suspected of serious side effects, including hypertension.
Worst Gadget: Gut Buster
Gut Buster was sold through Parade Magazine, which has a history of this kind of advertising. Spend just a few minutes each day with this gadget and you will burn stomach fat and flatten and trim your stomach, said the ads; better than sit-ups for strengthening and toning your stomach muscles. The FTC disagreed, and charged promoters Richard and Luann Suarez with making false and unsubstantiated claims. What’s more, said FTC, the spring-tension contraption could break and injure the user. The Suarezes’ signed a consent agreement.
Worst Product: Smooth Contours Thigh Cream
Thigh cream hit the headlines by way of the scientific route when featured at the North American Association for the Study of Obesity conference in October 1993. But when obesity researchers George A. Bray, MD, and Frank Greenway, MD, reported that it “causes regional fat loss from the thighs of women,” there appeared to be serious gaps in their research. They rushed it to market anyway, and excited consumers ate it up – and rubbed it on. Safety concerns voiced by pharmacologists warned that if indeed the drug were absorbed it could have toxic effects, such as convulsions and heart damage. Obesity Research, NAASO’s journal, in March offered a kind of apologia that in an “oversight” their abstract had not included a financial interest disclosure. Unfazed, Bray and Greenway continue to market their thigh cream in several ways, including their own Smooth Contours sold via Nutri/System.
Worst Claim: Nutrition 21’s Chromium Picolinate
Dieters and young men trying to build their physique are the primary targets for seductive sellers of chromium picolinate. We’re going right to the source on this one, wholesaler Nutrition 21, which distributes chromium picolinate to many dealers of questionable supplements who then market it under a variety of “chromo-pico” names.
Like the thigh cream promoters, Nutrition 21 calls on science to back up misleading claims. But the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center in Grand Forks, ND, most often cited by Nutrition 21, reports there’s no evidence for claims that it improves metabolism, resulting in more muscle; melts fat away; no dieting or exercise required to lose fat; better appetite control; increases metabolism; reduces body fat; lowers cholesterol; or lowers blood sugar. The center director says all claims for chromium picolinate are false and misleading. Researchers warn of possible health risks, particularly in the mega doses athletes commonly take.
Most Outrageous: MarTrim
Who needs a weight loss plan when one tablet does it all? MarTrim, another herbal from "100% natural plant sources," is claimed to cause rapid weight loss and keep weight off permanently with no change in diet or exercise. Touted to alter digestion, block calorie absorption, block sugar absorption, neutralize calories, and shrink fat cells within hours, MarTrim holds out impressive (but highly unlikely) losses of 87 pounds, and 30 pounds in 30 days. (MarTrim, 881 NE 26 St., #216, Wilton Manor, FL 33305.)
Worst Gadget: Fleetwood Tables
Because promoters objected so strenuously to our 1993 awarding of Worst Product to a passive exercise table of the type now popular in health clubs, spas and weight loss centers, we believe the message bears repeating: All claims of weight loss, fat loss and inch loss for such tables are false.
F1eetwood Mfg, of Mesa, Ariz., with Thomas Fleetwood, owner, is the latest to sign a Federal Trade Commission consent agreement to halt their false and unsubstantiated claims. Advertising nationwide by radio, TV, mail, magazines and newspapers, Fleetwood falsely claimed the tables help reduce body weight, lose inches, remove cellulite, tone and firm muscles, and provide the fitness benefits of rigorous exercise, according to FTC. The tables come in sets of five to seven, each for different muscle groups. Continuous passive motion exercise tables do have legitimate uses in physical therapy.
Worst Product: Revlon Anti-cellulite
Widely advertised to "reduce cellulite," reduce the "skin's bumpy texture, ripples or slackness caused by cellulite," and help "disperse toxins and excess water from areas where cellulite appears," is Revlon's Ultima II ProCollagen Anti-cellulite body complex, "Cellulite" is a quack term for ordinary fat, which cannot be spot-reduced. The false concept that it can, and is unique, is now being exploited by mainline cosmetics companies. Revlon and Charles Revson, Inc., recently agreed to settle FTC charges of unsubstantiated claims.
Worst Claim: Dr. Clayton's Natural Program
Herbals like Dr. Clayton's Natural Program for Weight Control evade federal regulation for safety, effectiveness and quality by posing as foods—supposedly with no drug claims. An example of "food" no one wants to eat, Dr. Clayton's set of pills contains 13 herbal ingredients: Blood Cleanser to "detoxify the blood and tissues"; Herba-Clenz for "cleansing and healing the bowel"; and Weight Control which "helps your body control its weight through improved metabolism, reduced ap-petite, etc." — illegal drug claims, all. (L&H Vitamins: 17~1O Crescent St., Long Island City, NY 11101. 800-221-1152; 900-860-4625.)
Most Outrageous: Synchronol infomercials
Fully exploited by Synchronol, 30-minute television infomercials resemble an educational format with pseudo news and interviews. In one Synchronol script a "researcher" explains how seaweed removes fat: "Well, this diagram will help make it clear. These are cellulite cells with their trapped toxins. The hardened connective tissue won't let these nu-trients get to the cells. . . Seaweed is a key to success." FTC charged Synchronol with false claims in selling Anushka Body Contouring, Cel-lulite Gel, Firming Lotion, Multi-revitalizing Cream, and Cellulean tablets.
Worst Gadget: Acu-stop 2000 ear device
An acupuncture device to curb the appetite, Acu-Stop is a clear plastic, teardrop-shaped object that fits into the ear, similar to a hearing aid. Instructions are to insert it in the right ear with the "bumps" in-side, and wear it 15 to 20 minutes six times a day or more "as necessary" to control hunger. The ads claim it will "control your hunger in a remarkable new way, without di-eting, without exercise. . . Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!" A tantalizing clincher adds, "If you lose too much weight, discontinue use immediately." $39.99. Acu-Stop 2000, 10343 Royal Palm Blvd, :#339, Coral Springs, FL 33065-4817
Worst Product: Slender You tables
Cropping up everyhere today, in weight loss clinics, spas and health clubs, are the sleek new passive exercise "state-of-art" mechanical tables which rhythmically move one's body parts back and forth, claiming to provide the benefits of actual exercise. Slender You says their tables will tone and firm muscles, remove "cellulite," reduce fat in specific locations, and provide benefits similar or superior to rigorous exercise. "Everyone loses inches. . . 10 inches in 13 weeks. . . Reduces excess fat on upper arms, midriff, waist. . . Pumps surplus oxygen into your system and rids body of fat-inducing acid waste. . . Each 60 minute Slender You workout approximates 7 hours of traditional exercise. . . No sweat. No strain!" Furthermore, there's profitability: "Most salons more than double their money in profit by the end of the first year." Slender You recently signed a consent order with FTC to halt these false claims.
Worst Claim: Bodi-trim pills
Bodi-Trim, a new pill from Fat-Busters, tempts with its easy promises: "I guarantee! Eat all you want. . . You can lose 70 pounds in 40 days or your money back!! Melts away 30, 60, or even 100 pounds. Discovered by a heart specialist. . . The most permanent way to lose weight and keep it off. . . Simply take one tablet at breakfast." Thirty-day plan $19.95. Fat-Busters, Seffner, FL 33584-0218 (1-800-445-7500; 1-800-950-0210)
Most Outrageous: Beneficial International Body Wrap
It is outrageous that in weight loss centers across the country women (primarily) are being wrapped toe to chin in plastic wrap to shrink their size. It’s true that temporary squeezing may occur, as with a rubber band around the wrist. However, counselors insist the $40 weekly treatments give lasting results and that their body wrapping "mobilizes fat and cellulite and flushes it out of the body." Promoters of the B.I. Body Wrap claim that clients will "lose 4 to 14 inches in one hour"; the catch being that 18 or more sites are totaled to make up those inches, so this can be a squeezing in of less than one-fourth inch per site.
Worst Gimmick: Slender-Mist Appetite Spray
Designed to be sprayed in the mouth just before temptation strikes, Life Way's Appetite Spray (co-mar-keted by Spiegel catalog company) is a dainty, pencil-thin gadget that comes in four flavors. Caution: Chocolate spray may be a hazard for chocolate lovers—it's a fragrant reminder of the real thing. Ingredients arginine, lysine and phenylalanine are listed in the recent FDA ban.
Worst Product: Bee Sweet Grapefruit Diet
Bee Sweet's bee pollen grapefruit pill tops the year's worst diet scams. It exploits the fallacy that bees, honey and bee-related products have mys-tical powers, a notion rooted in Greek mythology. Marketed to truck drivers via interstate truck stops, the pill combines pollen, grapefruit powder and glucomannan. The Food and Drug Administration says there is no evidence bee pollen gives any therapeutic benefit or that either grape-fruit pills or glucomannan are safe or effective for weight loss. Allergic reactions are real hazards.
Worst Claim: Primary Plan Tablets
This product wins "worst claim" for its shameless targeting of new mothers at a vulnerable time in their lives. Primary Plan claims, "This Revolutionary Weight-loss Tablet Plan Can Enable New Mothers to Quickly lose 20-75 pounds." It contains two ingredients banned by FDA for diet pills—lecithin and caffeine from kola nut powder. Customers are led on to bogus nutritional analyses and useless supplements. The company uses the name National Insti-tute of Weight Control to give itself credibility.
The best weight loss news of 1991 is FDA's ban of 111 ingredients identified as not safe and effective for nonprescription weight control pills. Muting effects of the ban are already apparent in advertisements for herbal and "natural" food promotions.
Most Outrageous: Cho Low Tea
In promoting Cho Low Tea, Australian Peter Foster proved that a nationwide newspaper ad can pull a quarter of a million dollars in only five days for a product that does not exist. Foster made his fortune in England but escaped to the United States in 1989 amid charges he bilked consumers of nearly $7 million in an oriental-tea slimming scam. Despite his hard-sell claims for it, in the US there never was any tea. He eventually showed police several cheap brands that he suggested might be blended to fill orders. Federal and local agents moved in quickly after reading the ads, and he was sentenced to four months in county jail, 900 hours of community service picking up trash on the Los Angeles freeway, and a fine of $228,000 for unpaid newspaper advertising. Foster served time, but declined to pay the fine or pick up trash. Instead he fled to the Cayman Islands, where he reportedly has a large bank account.
Worst Gimmick: Dream Away
Dream Away promoters advertise: "Just take Dream Away before going to bed. You will wake up the next morning slimmer, trimmer..."
Worst Product: Cal-Ban 3000
Cal-Ban 3000 is off the market after a five-year rollercoaster operation of dodging the law on one hand, cranking out slick sales pitches on the other. In 1987 the U.S. Postal Service stopped their mail, but Cal-Ban promoters continued to sell through a toll-free number and UPS deliveries. Their aggressive marketing campaign gathered steam through the spring and early summer of 1990 as Cal-Ban broke into drugstore distribution systems. Suddenly it was everywhere—in prominent displays in Wal-Mart, Osco Drug and the corner store, on late night TV and in article-style newspaper ads with datelines of Finland and Sweden. Injury reports escalated: Florida authorities said they had over 50; FDA reported 17 cases of esophageal obstruction and one death as a result of surgery to remove an obstruction in the throat. By the end of July it was over. Authorities closed out the $30 million Florida operation and asked merchants to remove Cal-Ban from their shelves.
Worst Claim: Berry Trim
Berry Trim indulges the coy ploy of signing direct mail copy that looks as if it’s ripped from a newspaper and inserted in an envelope by a well-meaning friend. It’s a mock full-page ad, with a personalized handwritten message: 'Angie, Try it. It works! J." (Note: As you try to figure out which of your friends sent you this, be aware that hucksters believe “J” is one of the most common first name initials.)
Most Outrageous: Fat Magnet
Charges have been filed against producers of this pill in Iowa, Missouri and Texas. Billed as the lazy way to lose weight, the Fat Magnet costs $35 for 180 pills. It is claimed to break into “thousands of particles, each acting like a tiny magnet, attracting and trapping many times its size in undigested fat particles … then, all the trapped fat and calories are naturally flushed out of your body.” It is said to have been developed by “two prominent doctors at a world famous hospital in Los Angeles.” (Allied International, Beverly Hills, CA)
Worst Gadget: Jet Trim Cellulite Nozzle
The Jet Trim Cellulite program sells 10 sessions to massage away a problem that doesn’t exist. A nozzle device similar to a vacuum cleaner is touted to break up the cellulite and enable it to be sloughed off by the body. Since cellulite does not exist, the problem is mythical; cellulite is a quack term used to exploit the idea that lumpy fat deposits respond to special treatment. (Jet Trim, Oklahoma City, OK)
Worst Product: Appetoff Diet Patches
These patches are claimed to suppress the appetite control center in the brain. A drop or two of herbal liquid is placed on an adhesive bandage, which is then affixed to the wrist at an “acupuncture” point. Calling diet patches Snake-Oil on a Band-Aid, consumer activists liken them to “putting nothing on no place.” Meditrend reportedly took in $13 million with this product in five months. In a label review, FDA pulled this product off the market and destroyed $25 million in Appetoff diet patch kits. (Meditrend International, San Diego, CA)
Worst Claim: Ultimate Solution Diet (“Lose weight, earn $1,000”)
This scam combines two American obsessions – making money and losing weight. The ads for the Ultimate Solution state: “We will pay you $1,000 to lose weight, if you help us test our new all natural, safe and effective diet program.” Here’s the catch: You buy $229 worth of diet aids, fill in a daily diary, and receive a U.S. Bond costing $130 to $180, according to reporter Kevin Keeshan, KGET-TV, Bakers field, CA. If you keep the bond long enough, it will mature to $1,000. (Amerdream, Miami Beach, FL)
Exploiting FCC loophole with Infomercials: Airwaves deregulation by the FCC favors quackery by permitting program-length commercials to masquerade as straight news or talk shows. Use of this loophole for infomercials has accelerated since the 1984 ruling. They often include “interviews” with actor salesmen posing as scientists or health specialists.
Seduction of Institutions: Rising costs put medical institutions, universities and even professional associations at risk for seduction by commercial weight-loss programs and products. Diet programs are becoming entrenched in hospitals and clinics for the financial rewards they offer, without accountability systems; reports of success are often in anecdotal and evasive terms. Medical personnel and scientists who otherwise would champion balanced health programs are caught in an ethical dilemma that pits the need to strengthen their institutions financially against the scientific integrity of complete results disclosure.