2003 Slim Chance Awards

Each year, Frances M. Berg, M.S., who operates the Healthy Weight Network presents "Slim Chance Awards" to promoters of weight-loss schemes. Here are the awards for 2003.

Worst product: Metabadrine

Cashing in on the fact that state laws are shutting out ephedra, and major manufacturers have pulled it from their weight loss products, the makers of Metabadrine tell customers to hurry ­ California is one more state banning ephedra, and even Congress may step in.

"Ephedra is not a dirty word here. We have had to change the name of our products and the color of our labels because of lawsuits from major companies We copied the Xenadrine with Ephedra formula! Metabadrine has the same ingredients, same quality, giving the same results." And of course never before did pills produce weight loss of the "extraordinary magnitude" of those replaced. "This is potent stuff so head the warnings!! Do not exceed four capsules a day." The company, Gorilla Vitamins, also sells HCAMAX and MatabaLITE, both containing ephedra.

Texas was first to ban ephedra-laced diet pills, followed by Florida and Illinois, sparked by the death of an Illinois 16-year-old football player who died of a heart attack after using the diet supplement. A national ban is urged by the American Medical Association, the American Heart Association, and athletic groups such as the NBA, NFL, and the International Olympic Committee.

Worst Claims: Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss Formula

Body Solutions peddled their product by employing 678 popular, trusted radio personalities and disk jockeys on 755 U.S. radio stations, testifying to their own weight loss and promising listeners in both English and Spanish they would lose as much as 40 pounds a month permanently without exercise, diet or limiting high calorie foods. Furthermore, like the irresponsible disk jockeys, they'd lose weight while they slept.

The Federal Trade Commission spent two years investigating, found the company's so-called research "fatally flawed," and brought suit. They finally reached an agreement that the company, Mark Nutritionals, based in San Antonio, Texas, would drop the term "weight loss" from the name Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss Formula and stop making deceptive claims.

An estimated 1.5 million people shelled out $190 million in three years for the $39.95 to $60 bottles of strawberry-flavored formula. Customers were demanding refunds but couldn't get their money back. Lawyers for angry customers are seeking more than $190 million. Fittingly, perhaps, radio networks whose personalities pitched the product are out $37 million in unpaid bills. Prompted by this debacle, FTC recently released guidelines to warn the media about carrying ads that promise more than they can deliver. However, several Texas station managers said they see nothing unethical about their weight-loss testimonials.

FTC reached a $1 million settlement in December. The company filed for bankruptcy protection but continued to operate through 2003, suggesting their agreement with FTC is just a reorganization effort, "part of our commitment to lead the industry by example."

Most Outrageous: Himalayan Diet Breakthrough

Half-page ads in newspapers across the country hype the Himalayan Diet Breakthrough as triggering a "chemical switch that controls your weight." Supposedly the ultra-fast acting formula combines a miracle mineral from the Himalayan Mountains with 7 other highly-unusual, hard-to-find ingredients in a synergistic way that makes each even more effective at producing high speed weight loss. Top fashion models are said to lose "53 pounds in just 47 days!"

Outrageous claims include: Burns off more fat than running 98 miles per week! Incredibly effective. Safe, rapid and dramatic weight loss. Permanent weight loss made easy. Stokes your body's fat burning furnace. Destroys fat. Flushed right out of your body! Promotes the burn-off of body fat and prevents it from being stored. Reduce cravings for sugar and fatty foods. Natural and so safe. Lifetime guaranteedouble-your-money-back!

Like similar scams, this one sets up a toll free number and post office box for orders, and offers a money-back guarantee, which usually proves worthless. Then the money pours in from vulnerable customers throughout the country ­ perhaps more than the $1.1 million clocked by the FTC in a similar newspaper advertisement scheme. People may think their newspaper has reviewed and found the ad trustworthy, and would not defraud its readers. Not true. Some newspapers are left with unpaid bills when the promoter disappears with the cash ­ or ships it to an off shore bank. The Himalayan Diet Breakthrough is sold by AVS Marketing of Thomson, Illinois.

Worst Gimmick: MagnaSlim

Combining the unproven theories of magnetic therapy and accupressure, MagnaSlim is a "breakthrough in weight loss technology" that is said to control appetite and reduce stress and anxiety eating when worn at the wrist. Acupressure has been a favorite gimmick of weight loss promoters for years, usually zeroing in on a jazzy item that presses on so-called appetite centers on ears or wrists. Earrings or adhesives press beads, seeds or other hard substances against these points. Or patches are soaked with herbal potions and attached in snake-oil-on-a-band-aid fashion. What's new here is that MagnaSlim contains "5 Proprietary blended magnets," along with a "magnetized solution," that supposedly gives relief from hunger cravings. The magnetic field is claimed to penetrate every cell, realigning incorrectly positioned ions within the cells. Proper flow of "Chi" is restored by massage or heat at acupuncture points, which "polarizes Chi energy." Also sold as Magna 1.

The Slim Chance awards, sponsored by Healthy Weight Network and the National Council Against Health Fraud, are selected from nominations by health professionals and consumers and reflect the opinion of the panel making the judgments. The Council warns that since the 1994 Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act, pushed through by nutritional supplement dealers and their sponsors in Congress, diet supplements are no longer classified as drugs, reducing the FDA's control over them.

This article was posted on December 22, 2008.

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