Each January, Frances M. Berg, M.S., editor of Healthy Weight Journal, presents "Slim Chance Awards" to promoters of weight-loss schemes. Here are the awards for 1999.
Worst Product: Herbal Weight Loss Tea
Herbal diet tea sounds harmless, but in fact it often contains potent laxatives, diuretics or other drugs that can cause abdominal cramps, nausea, fainting, breathing difficulties, fluctuation in body temperature, diarrhea, and even death. In June 1998 the death certificate for Debbie Helphrey, 20, of Palm Harbor, Florida, was amended to show the cause of death as drinking Laci Le Beau Super Dieter's Tea, which led to an electrolyte imbalance and cardiac arrhythmias. At least four deaths have been reported. The most severe effects have been observed in women who drank the diet tea in excess amounts or over a period of time, and also were restricting food. Directions often urge this-to use the tea regularly and increase dosage if the "cleansing" effects wear off. This would not be allowed with similar over-the-counter products, experts point out. Many herbal diet teas are on the market, unregulated and nonstandardized as to ingredients or potency. Available from supplement dealers.
Most Outrageous: Slim America
The Slim America campaign is outrageous for running full-page ads in major newspapers across the country claiming Super-Formula pills will block fat absorption, curb appetite, and speed metabolism, and netting $9.5 million within 12 months. Outrageously flagrant and profitable. Big headlines arrested the reader's attention: "Blast up to 49 pounds off you in only 29 days!" "Obliterates up to 5 inches from your waistline... Zaps 3 inches from your thighs before you know it!" The pills were touted as "embarrassingly cheap" at $89.95 for 60 days. The Federal Trade Commission moved quickly to freeze company assets, but most of the money had disappeared. Slim America, 777 S. State Road 7, #15, Margate, FL 33068.
Worst Claim: Calorad
Calorad claims to help you lose fat while gaining muscle. Its main ingredient is collagen, a poor quality, incomplete protein, with aloe vera for laxative effect, and the mild sweetener glycerin masking an offensive taste. Another multi-level marketing promotion that promises to fix what ails you, to give you "better sleep, muscle toning, improved overall fitness, and increased energy," while helping you shed fat and replace it with muscle, all without exercising. It has the potential for serious protein malnutrition if relied upon totally, as some users apparently do. Instructions are to eat nothing for 3 hours before going to bed, take the powdered collagen at bedtime and upon waking in the morning, to "help you sustain daytime energy levels with the added advantage of endurance and stamina." Athletes are told to take Calorad 30 minutes before a work out. Available from supplement dealers.
Worst Gadget: Ace Bandage Wrap
Lose inches while cleansing the "environmental poisons" from your body, is the mystical claim for this Ace bandage treatment. The theory is that toxins continually enter our bodies, which fight back by diluting the poisons with more fluid around the cells, causing our bodies to swell and become puffy with cellulite. After being swathed head to toe in wet, mineral-soaked Ace bandages, the body supposedly absorbs the secret minerals, which triggers a release of toxins into plastic bags fastened onto hands and feet, thus shrinking the person "6 to 20 inches." Suddenly Slim charges $79 for this shriveling service, even suggesting it might be done as many as 4 times a day for special events such as one's wedding. Available in spas and weight loss centers.
- Summary of FTC cases related to weight-loss products and services 1924-1997.