An estimated 50 million Americans go on a diet each year and about 5 percent manage to keep the weight off, according to Colorado State University Extension. People often choose to join a weight loss program because they offer an alternative way to drop pounds quickly. In a report to the Federal Trade Commission, Dr. George L. Blackburn writes that many weight loss programs promise immediate success without encouraging customers to reduce calorie intake or increase physical activity.
Heart Disease Risk
In 2005, the "Journal of the American Medical Association" published a trial comparing the heart disease risks of people on a variety of different popular commercial weight loss programs. The researchers enrolled 160 participants with known risks for cardiovascular disease and assigned them to adhere to one of four weight loss programs for two months. After one year, the researchers concluded that each diet modestly reduced the body weight and several heart disease risk factors. Adherence to the diet, however, was low. Those who were able to follow their diet experienced a reduced risk of potential cardiac disease symptoms.
Weight loss programs are luring customers in with phony claims, exaggerated performance promises and even flat-out lies. Out of a sample of 300 advertisements, the FTC report found that 65 percent used customer testimonials, such as “I lost 46 lbs. in 30 days!” Forty-two percent had before and after photos. The average amount of weight lost in 195 testimonial advertisements was 70 lbs., an amount that is not achievable for the products they’re promoting. Some ads insinuated that customers could conceivably drop 8 to 10 lbs. per week.
Diet plans are not cheap. In 2005, "Forbes" magazine compared the cost of a weekly menu from 10 popular diets. The average price for buying food from plans like Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, Ornish, Slim Fast and more came to $85.79. The average American spends $54.44 per week on food. Considering the fact that most people gain back 2/3 of weight lost in their first year and gain back 100 percent of their lost weight in five years, according to a different FTC report from 1997, that money can be much better spent elsewhere.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 66 percent of Americans are either trying to lose weight or maintain their current weight. Weight loss programs are profiting from the fat epidemic in this country. In 2000, eight of the largest weight-loss chains brought in $788 million. From 1996 to 1998, the CDC surveyed adults in the United States and found that 17.2 million were using nonprescription weight-loss products.
- Journal of the American Medical Association: Comparison of the Atkins, Ornish, Weight Watchers, and Zone Diets for Weight Loss and Heart Disease Risk Reduction
- Colorado State Extension: Weight Loss Products and Programs
- Forbes: Costly Calories
- Atlanta Business Chronicle: Fat is a $34 Billion Business