2011 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 2011.

Most Outrageous: Jesse Willms, the Canadian owner of Just Think Media.

Willms is a multimillionaire connected to more than 40 product and company names. The 23-year-old high school dropout is charged with deceiving people like Candice Rozak of Edmunton who ordered a free trial of a diet pill called Acai Burn that required only a small handling fee and later found her credit card depleted of nearly $700. It's a major international problem says Canada's Anti-Fraud Call Centre. The FTC in the U.S. agrees and is suing Willms and his associates who collected more than $450 million from online consumers in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand. The complaint says Willms sold at least 15 brands of acai berry weight-loss pills, six brands of colon cleansers and supplements containing resveratrol—all marketed with false or misleading claims. Promised money-back guarantees were often ignored. Despite the efforts of credit card companies and banks the money kept flowing through shell companies and manipulation of payment data.

Worst Gimmick: Pure Energy Weight Loss plus Energy Band.

This plastic bracelet embeds green and silver hologram discs claimed to give off vibes that resonate throughout the body and stimulate weight loss and health. Among the alleged results are decreased appetite, balanced metabolism, balanced hormone-enhanced energy flow, increased energy levels and the promotion of positive emotions. A testimonial declares, "Since I bought my Pure Energy Band I have lost over 83 Lbs and I feel fantastic." Furthermore a disc does not even need to touch the skin—apparently it can hover at some distance. Supposedly, to be effective it √£only needs to be within the body's natural energy field. For most people, that is within two inches of the body.

Worst Claim: Sensa weight-loss crystals.

The Sensa website states boldly that users can lose an average of 30.5 pounds in six months without dieting, exercise, food restrictions or drastic lifestyle changes—by merely sprinkling these weight-loss crystals on their food. It claims that Sensa has been "clinically proven." Smell and taste receptors supposedly send the brain messages to tell your body to stop eating. It "activates a hunger-control switch in the brain and you "eat less and feel more satisfied—no feelings of hunger or intense cravings." Class-action suits have been filed in California and Texas against the marketers of Sensa, developed by Chicago neurologist Alan Hirsch, M.D. and sold by California-based Sensa Products. The California complaint states that (a) there is no competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate these claims and (b) an expert who reviewed Sensa's main clinical study judged it "beyond worthless."

Worst Product: HCG (human chorionic gonadotrophin.

HCG was first introduced more than 50 years ago by British physician Dr. Albert Simeon who claimed the hormone, found in the urine of pregnant women, would mobilize stored fat, suppress appetite and redistribute fat. He contended that regular injections would enable dieters to live comfortably on a 500-calorie-a-day diet. For a time, these weekly injections were the most widespread obesity medication administered in the US. In the mid-70s the FDA and FTC effectively shut them down by ordering the Simeon clinics to stop claiming their programs were safe and effective, and requiring they inform patients in writing that there was no evidence HCG increases weight loss beyond that resulting from caloric restriction. More recently infomercial king Kevin Trudeau took up the cudgel. His 2007 book claims HCG is "an absolute cure for obesity discovered almost fifty years ago, but "suppressed" by medical experts and the FDA. HCG is heavily marketed online and in retail outlets as oral drops, pellets, and sprays, while injections for weight loss continue. Labeling states that each should be taken in conjunction with a very-low-calorie-diet which, the FDA noted, can trigger gallstone formation, electrolyte imbalance and abnormal heart rhythms. (HCG is approved as an injectable prescription drug for the treatment of some cases of female infertility and other medical conditions.) In December the FDA and FTC jointly warned six companies that it is illegal to market over-the counter HCG products labeled as "homeopathic" for weight loss. This is considered a first step in halting sales.


The new marketing is so lucrative and people with weight concerns are so vulnerable that case-by-case enforcement actions have little impact. To improve the situation, our society needs a plan that includes screening of certain types of ads, publicly exposing sellers placed on the Visa/MasterCard Match list, and routine criminal prosecution of violators.

This article was posted on December 29, 2012.

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