The diet industry promises an edge in weight loss, a boost that will help you avoid some of the work and sacrifice usually required of people who want to shed excess pounds. But it is important to evaluate carefully any claims that the industry makes, according to the Federal Trade Commission, because the promises are often too good to be true.
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Weight loss is a $55 billion-a-year industry globally, CNBC reported in February 2010. And Americans alone, according to BusinessWeek, spend $40 million of the total. Players in the industry include weight loss franchises, food companies, pharmaceutical firms, the diet book industry and dietary supplement suppliers.
The diet industry is unlikely to run out of customers in the foreseeable future. As of 2008, about 68 percent of people in the United States were either overweight or obese, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2010. But hardly anybody wants to be that way. About half of the 4,000 people in a 2006 Yale University survey said they would sacrifice a year of life rather than be fat.
Do not believe everything you hear from the diet industry, warns Richard Cleland, assistant director at the Federal Trade Commission, which has sued weight-loss marketers. “The ads are filled with testimonials about amounts of weight that are just physiologically impossible for a person to lose," Cleland says, "You just don’t lose 30 pounds in 30 days.” In January 2010, for example, a federal judge ordered Bronson Partners LLC, marketer of an herbal tea and a diet patch, to pay the FTC $2 million for making deceptive claims that people could lose as much as 6 lbs. a week without diet and exercise.
The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance opposes not only dishonest advertising and useless products, but "any diet marketing strategy based on guilt and fear." Such approaches harm the self-esteem of overweight people and perpetuate negative stereotypes, according to the organization. The group advocates that commercials for diet products be banned from radio and TV and that companies be required to put health warning labels, similar to those on cigarette packages, on weight-loss products.
Obesity and the desire to conquer it are nothing new. In the 1830s, Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham ran health retreats to help people lose weight on a diet devoid of meat but heavy on his namesake graham crackers, according to CNN.com. In the early 20th century, a tapeworm fad hit, with weight-conscious consumers snapping up pills supposedly containing the little critters. The cigarette industry tried to get in on the diet act in the mid 20th century, promoting its products as a way to lose a few pounds. Among other schemes that have arisen from the modern diet industry, according to CNN.com: the "master cleanse," in which people exist for a time on a mixture of cayenne pepper, lemon juice, maple syrup and water; the Sleeping Beauty diet, in which you lose weight by fasting for several days while under sedation; and various "single-food" diets, such as the grapefruit diet and the cabbage soup diet.