Weight Loss Promotions

Many Americans want to lose weight – it is easy to be lured by advertisements announcing the discovery of “breakthrough,” “secret,” or “miraculous” capsules or pills that are “guaranteed” to “burn,” “dissolve,” or “flush” unwanted fat away. Many of these promotions promise substantial weight loss in a relatively short amount of time without the use of exercise or dieting.

Unfortunately, these products rarely work and consumers are usually disappointed. Sometimes, the ordered merchandise is not delivered. Most often, the consumer receives the product, but it proves to be ineffective. Even worse, many of the “miraculous” products have potentially harmful side effects. Therefore, consumers should be skeptical when making decisions about which weight loss products may be right for them. 

According to the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, dietary supplements do not need to be approved by the FDA unless they contain a new dietary ingredient that was not sold in the U.S. in a dietary ingredient before October 15, 1994. Therefore, many weight loss products on the market have not been proven to aid in weight loss. Under federal law, dietary supplements can make claims about how their products affect the structure or function of the body, but they may not claim to prevent, treat, cure, mitigate, or diagnose a disease without prior FDA approval.

Although Phenylpropanolamine (PPA), an ingredient that suppresses the appetite, was once approved for weight loss, it is now being recalled. The FDA has requested that all drug companies discontinue marketing products containing PPA, after a study reporting that taking this ingredient increases the risk of hemorrhagic stroke. Benzocaine, a product used in diet gums and candies and numbs the tongue is also being reviewed by the FDA for safety. In addition, the FDA has recently issued the recall of the following thyroid-related weight loss products: Tricanca Metabolic Hormone Analogue, Triacutz Thyroid Stimultaor, Sc-Fi-Tri-Cuts Dietary Supplements, and Triax Metabolic Accelerator. These products were found to cause thyroid symptoms and increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Scientists are also warning against the use of ephedra, found in many over-the-counter dietary supplements. Lastly, the FDA has asked for the recall of “fen-phen”, a combination of fenfluramine and phentermine, after evidence that suggests that these drugs are the likely cause of heart valve problems.

These products may be useful for short-term weight loss, since they physically prevent you from eating as much as you usually do. However, they do not change your attitude about eating, and thus do not have the benefits for long-term loss that a change in diet or exercise would. Other products such as "fruit" pills, starch blockers, fillers, hormones, various diets, body wraps, and electric muscle stimulators have not been proven effective for weight loss, and could have disastrous results for your body, not to mention your pocketbook.

Beware of any promotion that claims easy weight loss. Claims that you can lose several pounds a week are unrealistic and would be harmful to your body if they were true. Generally, one pound per week is a realistic goal for weight loss. Words such as "breakthrough" or "secret" have no scientific significance; the FDA has not approved any drug or new diet, which has proven to be more effective than exercise and a varied and nutritionally balanced diet. Scientific diagrams and charts are designed to impress the unsuspecting consumer, instead of providing authentic evidence. Often, advertisements will contain testimonials by ordinary people who claim to have lost weight by using the company's product. These testimonials do not constitute any scientific proof of a product's effectiveness. In addition, it is important to be skeptical of self-proclaimed health advisors who sell their products by using high-pressure sales tactics. Despite money-back guarantees, many diet product companies do not refund consumers' money for unsatisfactory merchandise--a guarantee is only as good as the company making it.

Many weight loss schemes can also be found on the Internet. Web sites promoting diet pills or other “miraculous” ways to lose weight are ubiquitous. Although some web sites may be valid, specifically those that offer a chat room to vent your feelings about losing weight to others, it is important to remain skeptical about what they may be offering. Just because a web site looks professional, does not mean that it should be trusted. In addition, when communicating in a chat room, it is important to be wary of individuals who try to push you to buy a product that they claim helps you to lose weight.

Most importantly, remember, no diet pill can result in permanent, long-term weight loss. Permanent weight loss requires a change in lifestyle--better eating habits and regular exercise. Before starting on any weight loss plan, consult your doctor, or a qualified dietician or nutritionist.

For detailed information about a specific product, you may contact the manufacturer, whose information is located on the label of the product.

To investigate an advertised weight loss product or to file a complaint, call or write:
Food and Drug Administration
Consumer Affairs and Information
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857