Don't waste money on a weight loss miracle

Anyone who has lost weight knows that it takes effort. Just about anyone who wants to lose weight wishes it didn't.

That central conflict between hope and reality is at the heart of the questionable weight-loss product business. It is an industry rife with scams and bloated promises of success from pills and gadgets rather than exercise or a change in diet.

This week an official with the Federal Trade Commission told senators about the agency's efforts to crack down on empty promises from diet product companies, including claims by supplement manufacturers that have no science behind them.

Weight-loss fraud topped the list of a recent FTC fraud survey. Shady weight loss products cost consumers an estimated $2.4 billion.

If you're tempted to buy a weight loss product, be particularly wary if you see any of these catch-phrases used in the advertising or packaging, the FTC advises:

  • Lose weight no matter how much you eat of your favorite foods!
  • Lose weight permanently! Never diet again!
  • Just take a pill!
  • Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!
  • Everybody will lose weight!
  • Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream!

"The endless flood of unfounded claims being made in the weight-loss industry vividly illustrates the challenges we, and consumers, are up against," Mary Engle, the FTC's associate director for advertising practices told the Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation.

Engle detailed some of the FTC's crackdowns including promotions of such fads as acai berries, and said the agency has returned nearly $107 million to consumers since 2010 in weight-loss claims enforcement actions.

The FTC reported "several disturbing developments in weight-loss advertising," including the use of misleading or made-up studies and having celebrities such as TV doctor Dr. Mehmet Oz hawking products like green coffee bean extract.

Dr. Oz was put on the hot seat by senators on the committee for using his trusted public position to advance weight-loss products that have no scientific evidence to support them.

"I don't get why you need to say this stuff when you know it's not true," committee Chairwoman Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat from Missouri, said to Oz. "When you have this amazing megaphone, and this amazing ability to communicate, why would you cheapen your show?"

Dr. Oz defended his show by saying that he wants to give his viewers hope that they can change. McCaskill told "CBS This Morning" that she believes Oz is boosting the diet industry with unproven claims.

"I've got no problem with celebrity endorsements of any product but I do have a problem when a science-based doctor says something is a miracle when there's no science to back it up," she told CBS News' Nancy Cordes.

The science around weight loss is pretty clear cut. If you don't want to waste money, avoid products that promise what they can't deliver -- an easy solution.

For consumers who need help, consider programs built around lifestyles changes such as Weight Watchers or the South Beach Diet, which involve getting participants to be active and eat healthier.

  • Mitch Lipka On Twitter» On Facebook»

    Mitch Lipka is an award-winning consumer columnist. He was in charge of consumer news for AOL's personal finance site and was a senior editor at Consumer Reports. He was also a reporter for The Philadelphia Inquirer and the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, among other publications.

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