2009 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 2009.

Worst Product: Hydroxycut

The FDA has warned consumers to immediately stop using Hydroxycut products from Iovate Health Sciences USA, a distributor for the Canadian company of the same name. The agency has received reports of one death due to liver failure and 23 reports of serious health problems ranging from jaundice and elevated liver enzymes to liver damage requiring liver transplant. Other problems include seizures, cardiovascular disorders and rhabdomyolysis, a type of muscle damage that can lead to other serious health problems such as kidney failure. Iovate has agreed to recall 14 hydroxycut products from the market. The company has claimed (falsely) that the products decrease body fat, control appetite, cause weight loss, enhance energy and that users can "lose up to 4-5 times the weight than diet and exercise alone."

Most Outrageous: Pills spiked with powerful undisclosed drugs.

This year the FDA found so many diet pills secretly laced with powerful drugs that it was impossible for the Slim Chance selection panel to single out any, and could only group them together as “dangerous and outrageous.” FDA cited 69 weight loss “supplements” containing hidden, potentially harmful drugs or toxic substances, most imported from China, and says there may be hundreds more. In an analysis of 28 weight-loss products, FDA found sibutramine in all of them; some also contained rimonabant, phenytoin or phenolphthalein. Sibutramine is associated with high blood pressure, seizures, tachycardia, palpitations, heart attack and stroke, and the potency in the pills tested as high as three times prescription doses. Rimonabant (not approved in the U.S.), has been linked to five deaths and 720 adverse reactions in Europe during the past two years, and to increased risk of seizures, depression, anxiety, insomnia, aggressiveness and suicidal thoughts. In October the European Medicines Agency recommended halting all sales of the drug. Phenolphthalein is a suspected cancer-causing agent. FDA warned consumers not to buy or use any of the 28 products. (For more information the agency's "Questions and answers about FDA’s initiative against contaminated weight loss products."

Worst Claim: QVC shopping network.

The popular TV home shopping channel QVC, one of the world’s largest multimedia retailers, has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it made false and unsubstantiated claims about four weight loss products. The FTC had charged that QVC aired approximately 200 programs in which such claims were made about For Women Only weight loss pills, Lite Bites weight-loss food bars and shakes, Bee-Alive Royal Jelly, and Lipofactor Cellulite Target Lotion. This is not the first time the shopping channel has been charged with deception; QVC is in violation of a 2000 FTC order barring it from making deceptive claims. The latest claims say the products can cause significant long-term weight loss, prevent dietary fat from being absorbed, prevent carbohydrates from being stored as fat, reduce cellulite and decrease the size of the arms, legs and abdomen.

Worst Gimmick: Kinoki Foot Pads

The FTC has charged Kinoki Foot Pads with deceptive advertising for their claims that applying the pads to the soles of feet at night will remove heavy metals, metabolic wastes, toxins, parasites, and cellulite from people’s bodies. The ads also claim that the foot pads can treat depression, fatigue, diabetes, arthritis, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. All this is based on the quack theory of reflexology, which holds that specific areas of the feet affect specifid organs and glands. Since the foot pads darken, this is claimed as evidence that toxins are being drawn out of the body, but investigators have shown that the darkening is caused by moisture and has nothing to do with "toxins." For more, see Quackwatch's article on "Detoxification" schemes and scams.

This article was posted on December 30, 2009.

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