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6 Tips to Avoid Dangerous Weight Loss and Health Fraud Scams

Posted by Joan Salge Blake  March 11, 2013 10:31 PM

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Photo Source: FDA

With daylight savings starting this week, many of us are thinking about losing our winter weight.  Unfortunately, springtime is prime time for the advertising of bogus weight loss products and other get-in-shape dietary supplement rip-offs.  According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), “a health product is fraudulent if it is deceptively promoted as being effective against a disease or health condition but has not been scientifically proven safe and effect for that purpose.”

For example, FDA labs have uncovered more than 100 weight-loss products that have been illegally marketed that contain sibutramine, a compound that has been shown to be associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, according to the agency.  Sibutramine was  the ingredient in the weight–loss drug, Meridia, which was withdrawn from the market in 2010 due to this issue.  Keep in mind that dietary supplements aren't reviewed by the FDA for effectiveness or safety prior to being sold in the marketplace. 

Here are 6 Tips from the FDA that can help you identify if a product is “too good to be true” and a health scam rip-off:

Tip No. 1: Don’t Fall for Ads with Personal Testimonials:

Success stories are just that: stories.  Don’t fall prey to testimonials such as “I lost 100 pounds by taking this daily pill.”  If you want to read fiction, buy a good book.

Tip No. 2:  Be Leery of Products that Claim to be Quick Fixes

According to the FDA, beware of ads that boast that you can “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days.”  Weight loss or any other condition cannot be treated successfully in record-breaking time. 

Tip No. 3:  Note that “All Natural” Products are NOT Automatically Safe

As the FDA points out, poisonous mushrooms can be found in nature and can kill you if you eat them.  In the past, the FDA has found “all natural” products that actually contained hidden doses of prescription drug ingredients or untested active ingredients that could be dangerous if consumed.  

Tip No. 4:  Beware of Ads that Say “One Product Does It All”

The FDA recently sent U.S. marshals into a New York firm that claimed that their product could cure everything from dementia to prostate cancer.  The marshals seized the products to protect the public.

Tip No. 5:  Roll Your Eyes When You Hear About a Product’s Miraculous Curing Power

If the product had miraculous powers, the science community would have already uncovered it through rigorous research studies.   The only thing that is miraculous is that companies make fortunes selling this stuff.

Tip No. 6:  Don’t Fall for The Old “Conspiracy Theory” Trick

This is the oldest trick in the book.  According to the FDA, beware of ad claims that the government and pharmaceutical companies are working together to hide information.  Trust me, there isn’t any conspiracy going on.  If the product was effective, the pharmaceutical companies would be working with the FDA to have it approved for use by the public.  This is called smart business.

                                                 Follow Joan on Twitter at: joansalgeblake
Originally published on the blog Nutrition and You!.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Joan Salge Blake, MS, RD, LDN, is a clinical associate professor and registered dietitian at Boston University in the Nutrition Program. Joan is the author of Nutrition &You, 2nd Edition, More »

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