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Barbara Burke

Health Options

By Joannie Dobbs & Alan Titchenal

Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Weight-loss miracle
claims unproved

In almost every Sunday newspaper, tucked near the comics, there is an ad for the latest "scientifically proven" weight-loss product. Proximity to the comics is appropriate because they are just as funny.

We first remember seeing similar ads around 1975 with the lecithin, kelp, vitamin B-6, cider vinegar pills. As a graduate student at the University of California Davis, Dobbs conducted and published a study showing that the pills worked as well as placebo pills containing only whole-wheat flour.

Obviously, this early study did little to prevent innumerable variations on the same theme. Debunking every ad like this could keep many researchers busy for a lifetime. However, it would be an exercise in futility since the marketers of such products just keep creating new gimmicks.

Last Sunday's paper had yet another too good to be true ad in the glossy inserts. "Research Notice" and "Free Trial" were the bold headings across the top of the ad. "Lose weight first. Pay later." "The Befosan Institute seeks 500 individuals who wish to lose weight."

As nutrition researchers, we found the use of various terms to be confusing and contradictory. A few of the AHA-6 claims include:

1) Each pill is an extraction of sweet acids contained in 30 pounds of fresh tropical fruit.

2) These sweet acids "... will allow anyone ... to activate their metabolism."

3) "... the weight of treated individuals is stabilized! The pounds are gone forever!"

4) "... lose at least 8 to 14 pounds within the first week."

Yet, their typical example shows 18 pounds lost in 8 days. Adding to the confusion, their big red colored WARNING states that "If you lose more than 10 pounds the first five days, we ask that you not take any more pills for 2 to 3 days at the end of the first week."

What's a sweet acid? And where do they find fruit so inexpensive that it is cheap enough to use 30 pounds per pill?

These pills claim to activate your metabolism. Only people who are dead have inactive metabolism. And for the claim that pounds are gone forever to be true, then again, it must be related to someone dead.

The ad claimed that typical weight loss from taking AHA-6 pills was 29 pounds in 15 days for a 154 pound woman. Without getting into the math, if these pills prevent absorption of all calories, they would also need to stimulate this woman's metabolism equivalent to running about 40 miles per day! If this were true, then she would need to be packed in ice to prevent life-threatening overheating.

We could not determine from the ad what research was being conducted, other than a study on how many people would send money.

The "free"part just meant that they promise to not cash your check until 3 weeks after you send it. However, Internet discussion group comments of previous users stated that checks were cashed before they received their pills.

Perhaps they were not part of the chosen 500.

Check out the Internet. You will find many discussion groups with comments from people dissatisfied with the product and the company.

Beware though. It won't take long for companies to figure out that they need to put up their own fake discussion groups to extol the wonders of their products. After all, it is all about freedom of speech - or is it?

Health Events

Joannie Dobbs, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a food and nutrition consultant
and owner of Exploring New Concepts, a nutritional consulting firm.
She is also responsible for the nutritional analyses
indicated by an asterisk in this section.

Alan Titchenal, Ph.D., C.N.S., is a sports nutritionist in the
Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Science,
University of Hawaii-Manoa.

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