How to Identify Diet Fraud and Weight Loss Quackery
Fraudulent diet products and weight loss programs often rely on unscrupulously persuasive combinations of message, program, ingredients, mystique and method of availability. A weight loss product or diet program may be fraudulent if it has any of the following:
- Claims a large, fast weight loss promised as easy, effortless, guaranteed or permanent. Claims of more than two pounds per week are a red flag.
- Implies weight can be lost without diet restricting calories, and discounts the benefits of exercise.
- Uses typical quackery terms such as miraculous, breakthrough, exclusive, secret, unique, ancient, accidental discovery, doctor developed.
- Claims to get rid of cellulite, something that doesn’t exist and reference to it are a warning of fraud or misinformation.
- Relies heavily on undocumented case histories, before and after photos, and testimonials by “satisfied customers” (who are often paid for testimony written by the advertiser).
- Misuses medical or technical terms and refers to studies without giving complete references.
- Professes to be a treatment for a wide range of ailments, nutritional deficiencies, and weight loss.
- Promotes a medically unsupervised diet of less than 1,000 calories per day.
- Diagnoses nutrient deficiencies and prescribes vitamins and supplements rather than a balanced diet. Recommends them in excess of 100% of Recommended Dietary Allowance.
- Requires special foods purchased from a health company rather than conventional foods.
- Promotes aids and devices such as body wraps, sauna belts, electronic muscle stimulators, passive motion tables, appetite patches, and the like.
- Promoted by a self-identified “nutritionist” with no credentials. Licensed nutritionists, nutrition educators, dietitians, and the science of nutrition is taught only through college.
- Fails to state health risks.
- Uses unproven, bogus, or potentially dangerous ingredients such as dinitrophenol, spirulina, amino acid supplements, glucomannan, human chorionic gonadotrophic hormone (HCG), diuretics, slimming teas, Echinacea root, bee pollen, fennel, chickweed, ephedra, and starch blockers.
- Claims ingredients will block digestion or surround calories, starches, carbohydrates or fats, and remove them from the body.
- Declares that the established medical community is against this discovery and refuses to accept its miraculous benefits.
Method of availability
- Is sold by self-proclaimed health advisors or “nutritionists,” often door-to-door, or in “health food” stores.
- Distributes through hard-sell mail order advertisements, television infomercials, or ads that list only a toll-free number without any address, indicating possible Postal Service action against the company.
- Demands large advance payments or long-term contracts. Payment should be pay-as-you-go, or refundable.
- Uses high pressure sales tactics, one-time-only deals, and displays prominent money-back guarantee.
Questions and complaints should be directed to your State Attorney General’s Office, Consumer Affairs. Other agencies concerned with fraud are the FDA and FTC.