Consumer Health Digest #08-52
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 23, 2008
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.
Slim Chance Awards issued. Frances M. Berg, M.S., who operates the Healthy Weight Network has issued the 20th annual set of "Slim Chance Awards" to weight-loss scheme promoters. Her 2008 picks are:
- Most outrageous claim: Kevin Trudeau infomercials. Trudeau told listeners they could easily follow the diet protocol at home, even though his book calls for human growth hormone injections that must be provided by a licensed practitioner. FTC action resulted in a court order for a $5+ million assessment and a three-year ban from doing infomercials.
- Worst gimmick: Skineez jeans ($139). The jeans were said to be impregnated with retinol and chitosan that would be released by friction and absorbed in to the body to fight "cellulite."
- Worst claim: AbGONE. Throughout 2008 full-page ads touted AbGONE as “proven to promote pot belly loss,” increase fat metabolism”and calorie burn, promote appetite suppression, and inhibit future abdominal fat deposits. The ads featured before-and-after shots of models, cut-away sketches of the abdomen with and without belly fat, and a white-coated researcher with a chart purportedly confirming success of 5 times reduction in fat mass, 4 times lower BMI, and 4 times greater weight loss than placebo. The ads stated that no added diet and exercise were needed, but a fine-print disclaimer said “diet and exercise are essential.”
- Worst product: Kimkins diet. Heidi “Kimmer” Diaz promised loss of up to 5% of body weight in 10 days. She also claimed to have lost 198 pounds in 11 months and showed before-and-after pictures that turned out to be fakes. Many users developed chest pains, hair loss, heart palpitations, irritability, and menstrual irregularities caused by the near-starvation (500 calorie per day) diet.
FDA warns against undeclared drugs in weight-loss products. The FDA is alerting consumers not to buy or use 28 weight-loss products that have been found to contain undeclared, active pharmaceutical ingredients. These products, some of which are marketed as “dietary supplements,” are offered on various Web sites and retail stores. Several are claimed to be “natural” or to contain only herbal ingredients. However, FDA analyses have identified sibutramine (a controlled substance) in all 28 products, rimonabant (a drug not approved for marketing in the United States) in one product, phenytoin (an anti-seizure medication) in two products, and phenolphthalein (a solution used in chemical experiments and a suspected cancer causing agent) in eight of the products. Some far exceeded the FDA-recommended levels, putting consumers' health at risk. Sibutramine, for example, can cause high blood pressure, seizures, tachycardia, palpitations, heart attack or stroke. This drug can also interact with other medications and increase the risk of adverse drug events. Rimonabant, has been associated with increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts and has been linked to five deaths and 720 adverse reactions in Europe during the past two years. The tainted products are Fatloss Slimming; 2 Day Diet; 3x Slimming Power; Japan Lingzhi 24 Hours Diet; 5x Imelda Perfect Slimming; 3 Day Diet; 7 Day Herbal Slim; 8 Factor Diet; 7 Diet Day/Night Formula; 999 Fitness Essence; Extrim Plus; GMP; Imelda Perfect Slim; Lida DaiDaihua; Miaozi Slim Capsules; Perfect Slim; Perfect Slim 5x; Phyto Shape; ProSlim Plus; Royal Slimming Formula; Slim 3 in 1; Slim Express 360; Slimtech; Somotrim; Superslim; TripleSlim; Zhen de Shou; and Venom Hyperdrive 3.0. [FDA warns consumers about tainted weight loss pills. FDA news release, Dec 22, 2008]
FTC stops another diet pill scammer. Weight-loss-pill marketers who offered free samples in order to obtain credit card information have agreed to stop making false claims and unauthorized charges. The marketers—Neil J. Wardle, Pace Mannion, Christopher J. Wardle, and their companies UltraLife Fitness Inc. and Tru Genix LLC—made false and unsubstantiated statements that hoodia would cause long-term or permanent weight loss without having to reduce caloric intake or increase physical activity. Many customers who provided their credit card information to cover shipping and handling were also charged for unauthorized periodic shipments. The FTC complaint was settled with a consent agreement under which the defendants were ordered to pay $9.9 million (the total estimated consumer injury). However, based on inability to pay, each of the three must pay only $50,000 and the rest was suspended. The settlement agreement also bars the defendants from misrepresenting any material fact in connection with the sale of a dietary supplement, food, drug, device, or health-related program or service and from using billing information to acquire unauthorized payments.
Since 1990, the FTC has brought more than 100 regulatory actions against dubious weight-loss products. Despite this effort, the number of scams appears to be growing. Their marketers know that only a small percentage of scammers encounter regulatory action and that even those who do might still make millions. The marketplace might improve, however, if weight-loss scams could be made less profitable to their "silent accomplices": the media and credit card companies that facilitate the flow of misinformation and money. It probably would help to lengthen the period during which credit card holders can protest for unauthorized charges or nondelivery of dietary supplement products. Another helpful strategy might be criminal prosecution for credit card fraud. [Barrett S. FTC curbs hoodia scammers. Diet Scam Watch, Dec 24, 2008]
This page was posted on December 24, 2008.