Don’t fall for fad weight-loss claims, FTC warns

Take our expert advice for dropping winter weight

Published: January 10, 2014 05:15 PM
Photo: Federal Trade Commission

Got plans to lose weight this year? If so, don't rely on pills, powders, and creams you see pitched on late-night infomercials or the web. The Federal Trade Commission this week cracked down on four marketers of those weight-loss products, announcing that they will have to refund consumers a total of $34 million.

The products were:

  • Sensa, a food additive ($26.5 million)
  • LeanSpa, which promoted acai berry and “colon cleanse” weight-loss supplements ($7.3 million)
  • L’Occitane, which claimed that its skin cream would slim users’ bodies ($450,000)
  • HCG Diet Direct, which marketed an allegedly unproven human hormone as a weight-loss treatment (financial penalty was suspended, since the company is unable to pay, the FTC says).

And it's not just those four you have to worry about. “Resolutions to lose weight are easy to make but hard to keep,” Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said. “And the chances of being successful just by sprinkling something on your food, rubbing cream on your thighs, or using a supplement are slim to none. The science just isn’t there.”

If you need to lose weight, try diet and exercise, say the experts at Consumer Reports.

On the other hand, there is good evidence for good old-fashioned advice: eating less and exercising more. And there’s a lot of good news in our survey of thousands of dieters and their experiences with 13 weight-loss programs. The survey, one of the largest ever to compare specific diets, allowed us to Rate them based on people’s overall satisfaction with the programs.

Losing weight requires diet and about 3½ to 5 hours a week of exercise. During these cold winter months, the right home exercise equipment can help you reach your weight and fitness goals. A treadmill can be a good choice. But if you are heavy or have back, knee, or hip problems, consider a nonimpact elliptical. If you’re competitive, try a home rower or spin bike.

Heart-rate monitors can help vigorous exercisers make sure they reach their target heart rate, but stay in their safety zone. The Polar H7 Heart Rate Sensor is Recommended. The Omron HR-100C is a CR Best Buy. Or consider getting an activity tracker. They’re smarter, more accurate, and do a whole lot more than measure how much one walks. The Fitbit One is a CR Best Buy and the Nike+ FuelBand is Recommended. The devices on display at the CES 2014 in Las Vegas offer leading-edge features that target specific sports and specific demographics.

You can track your weight loss with a new digital scale. The Taylor 7506 is Recommended.

If you bought one of those supplements or other weight-loss products the FTC investigated and are interested in a refund, note that it might take some time for you to get it. The FTC said that it is determining how best to provide redress in each case. When information on consumer refunds becomes available, you’ll find it at the FTC’s refunds page.

—Doug Podolsky 

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