Some customers looking to lose weight end up losing only money
BBB warns consumers to be cautious when embarking on a new weight loss routine
AUSTIN, Texas -- Gumdrops, lollypops and candy canes shot their final volley in the 2011 battle of the bulge this holiday season, and now the weight loss gimmicks, fads and remedies are crawling out of their trenches and preparing their assault. Better Business Bureau cautions consumers to research weight loss products and companies carefully and understand contracts completely -- including terms of cancellation -- before giving any personal information or making any purchases.
In 2011, BBB received more than 920 complaints nationwide against weight control services, more than 600 complaints against gyms and more than 3,150 complaints against health and diet food stores. Consumers have complained about deceptive advertising, ineffective products and confusing or misleading contracts.
In addition, the Federal Trade Commission and the Texas Attorney General have taken action against companies making unsubstantiated medical claims and using deceptive advertising tactics.
“It didn’t do that much for me, to be honest with you,” San Antonio resident Patrice Owens said about a product she purchased online. “I just wanted my money back and I didn’t want to deal with them anymore.”
Owens was looking to find an appetite suppressor to help her lose weight when she came across a free trial offer. That “free” trial came with an agreement that allowed the company to charge her $90 per month to send additional product. She said she later found that disclosure on the website, but it was not prominent and took some digging. When she called the company to cancel, she was refused a full refund.
“They agreed to give me back $30 of my $90,” she said. “I looked on the website for an address to write them a letter. (There was) no address or anything on their website, so I had to go through the Better Business Bureau to find out where they were.”
BBB received hundreds of complaints last year about “free trial” offers coming with undisclosed or difficult to understand caveats. Most consumers say the company signed them up for a monthly service without clear notification, or made it difficult to cancel and obtain a refund when the consumer was unhappy with the product.
In addition to enrolling her in a monthly program without her consent, Austin resident Susan Kwasniak said one company sent her additional products she had not requested and failed to include any instructions on how to use its appetite suppressor.
“When I looked it up on websites, I found a lot of people selling this and they have guides online,” she said. “It’s actually a 500-a-day calorie diet. They never told me that on the phone, and I got that on a competitor’s website, not from them.”
The product -- a homeopathic version of the prescription hormone chorionic gonadatropin, also called hCG -- is supposed to promote weight loss by suppressing appetite. However, it was never approved by the Food and Drug Administration for that purpose.
According to a press release issued by the Texas Attorney General in October 2011, “physicians and weight-loss clinics may not advertise hCG for weight loss in part because the FDA has stated there is no substantial evidence indicating that hCG leads to weight loss, beyond that which stems from severe dieting.”
In October 2011, the AG reached a settlement with several weight loss clinics throughout the state, which all agreed to stop advertising hCG for weight loss.
The hormone is the most recent in a long line of natural, homeopathic or herbal drugs that have been discredited after making weight loss claims. The FDA released a warning in October about some over-the-counter diet pills containing undisclosed, potentially harmful ingredients.
“Hidden ingredients are increasingly becoming a problem in products promoted for weight loss,” the release said.
BBB reminds consumers that the FDA does not test herbal or homeopathic remedies for safety and efficacy the way it does with prescription and other medications. Consumers should be skeptical of any claims made by purveyors of homeopathic and herbal weight loss supplements and research any product carefully before trying it.
Consumers should also be extremely cautious when purchasing any drugs or supplements online. Medications purchased from outside the United States may not be safe and companies that do not disclose location or contact information may be scams.
Kwasniak said she and her fiancé could not stick to the highly restrictive diet recommended to accompany the hCG drops she had purchased and Owens said she was so frustrated with the company that she never gave the drops she purchased much of a chance to begin with. Thankfully, neither said she had adverse reactions or side effects while using the product.
However, both said they are now on less restrictive programs that promote overall healthy lifestyle changes and have given up on quick fixes.
“You’re not even getting enough nutrition in a 500-calorie-a-day diet,” Kwasniak said. “I think those (more comprehensive programs), although not necessarily quick, provide you with the support that you really need to lose weight, because you have someone who walks you through it.”
For consumers looking to shed pound this year, BBB offers the following advice:
· Consult your physician. Before starting any weight loss regimen, visit your family doctor to discuss your overall health and safe and effective weight loss programs.
· Read contracts carefully. When signing up for any kind of recurring membership, such as at a gym or weight control program, be sure to understand all the terms and conditions before signing. Make sure you know how to cancel and whether or not your membership is automatically renewed at the end of the contract.
· Be wary of free trials. Know when the free trial begins and ends and whether or not you have to call to cancel in order to avoid future charges. Be clear on how much you will be charged if you do not cancel and whether or not you have to return any unused product.
· Avoid unproven products. Fad diets and new products come around every year that promise amazing results. Many such claims are not supported by evidence and some products have dangerous side effects.
· If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be wary of claims that a product can shed pounds without dieting or exercise or programs that promise unusually good results.
*Consumers willing to speak to the media.
To check the reliability of a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit bbb.org.
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Contact BBB serving Central, Coastal, Southwest Texas and the Permian Basin at (512) 445-4748.