Many people resolve to lose weight in the New Year. That makes them vulnerable to bogus claims about products that at best might be a waste of money and at worst dangerous.
There is no “secret ingredient,” “breakthrough formula,” or “ancient remedy” that will help you lose weight quickly with no change in your lifestyle. The CDC says losing weight is not easy and takes commitment. People who lose weight gradually and steadily (about 1 to 2 pounds per week) are more successful at keeping it off.
The FTC and FDA have landed on companies making false weight loss claims about dietary supplements, body wraps, skin patches and other products. There are even ads online for magnetic rings (earrings, toe rings and so on) that will supposedly help you lose weight. I didn’t see any regulatory actions involving them, but did find reports from experts saying they don’t work.
In 2020, the FTC settled allegations against a company that claimed its “detox tea” could help people lose weight. It promoted other teas as effective in fighting cancer, clearing clogged arteries, relieving migraines and preventing the flu.
Another company claimed that users of its product could “lose up to 15 pounds your first month…without diets or changing your food or lifestyle choices” and “without adding any exercise.” Satisfied users depicted in infomercials were actually actors.
The FDA says there’s a growing problem with over-the-counter products, particularly dietary supplements promoted for weight loss, containing hidden active ingredients that could be harmful. Some ingredients may be approved for use in prescription drugs, some are controlled substances, and some are untested and unstudied. The FDA warns against using products such as Miss Slim, Tummy Tuck Max, and Genesis Ultra Slim Gold. One of their ingredients is sibutramine, a controlled substance that was removed from the market in 2010 for safety reasons. It may present a significant risk for people with a history of coronary artery disease, stroke and other ailments; and may interact adversely with other medications.
The FDA says it can’t test all products and that its enforcement actions and consumer advisories only cover a small fraction of the tainted over-the-counter products on the market.
In its enforcement actions, the FTC has noted these deceptive tactics used to promote weight loss products:
Hiring well-known Instagram influencers to endorse products without disclosing they were paid to do so.
Using fake websites and news reports to promote bogus products.
Including images of doctors in ads to make them more believable.
Many people have complained to the FTC and BBB that after agreeing to a free-trial offer, they continued to receive monthly shipments of the product that were very difficult to cancel. Marketers also didn’t honor “money-back” guarantees.
The BBB offers these tips to avoid weight loss scams:
Be wary of ads and testimonials that promise miracle results.
Avoid products that claim to help you lose weight without dieting or exercising.
Check ingredients with the FDA. Be wary if there’s no list of ingredients.
Be wary of free trial offers that may hook you into receiving recurring shipments of products you don’t want.
Check out the company with the BBB and the company and product online.
Don’t assume a product is legitimate because it’s sold by a well-known retailer.
Randy Hutchinson is the president of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South. Reach the BBB at 800-222-8754.
This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: New Year's weight loss resolution might put you at risk of falling for a scam