In Our View: ‘Magic’ Diets an Illusion

Ignore hucksters; there is no substitute for exercising, eating sensibly



Recent action by the Federal Trade Commission serves as a reminder that diet-product companies are the modern P.T. Barnum. You know, something about suckers and one being born every minute.

How else to explain Americans’ unending willingness to be duped by the most outrageous of diet claims. The more absurd the claim, the better, it seems, as human nature leads those who desire weight loss to seek the simplest path to dieting. This comes as no surprise in a culture that celebrates the easy route to success. Want to get rich? Play the lottery. Want to grow hair? Just rub a certain cream on your head. Want to lose weight? Simply sprinkle some powder on your food.

That is what consumers of Sensa have been doing, embracing the notion that the powder will help make you feel full and cause you to eat less. At least that’s what the product’s makers have claimed, and plenty of people have been buying. From 2008 to 2012, Sensa had U.S. sales of more than $364 million, selling a one-month supply for $59 and urging consumers to “sprinkle, eat, and lose weight.” The FTC had a problem with that, and it made Sensa Products one of the targets of its annual crackdown on companies that make bogus diet claims. Determining that Sensa had little foundation for the assertion that it is a diet product, the FTC reached a settlement in which the company will return more than $26 million to consumers.

Three other bogus claims also landed in the sights of the federal commission. In one case, LeanSpa owner Boris Mizhen and three companies he controls will surrender cash, real estate and personal property worth an estimated $7 million. The companies used fake news websites to deceptively promote acai berry and “colon cleanse” weight-loss supplements, which brings up a consumer warning that should be unnecessary: Real news sites don’t promote weight-loss products.

In another case, HCG Diet Direct was targeted by the FTC for marketing an “unproven human hormone that has been touted by hucksters for more than half a century as a weight-loss treatment.” The company promoted a hormone produced by human placenta while claiming that consumers could lose up to one pound a day by placing the solution under their tongues before meals and eating an extremely low-calorie diet. We’re guessing the low-calorie diet was the biggest factor in any resultant weight loss.

With this being the time of year for resolutions, and with weight loss ranking among the most common of New Year’s promises, ’tis the season for Americans to explore the latest fads in diets. But, as U.S. News & World Report recently discovered when it ranked 32 popular diets, there is no substitute for exercise and sensible eating. Those things your doctor has been telling you all these years? Yeah, there’s some scientific evidence behind them.

That is more than can be said about a magic powder you sprinkle on your food. That is more than can be said about a hormone that you sprinkle under your tongue. As much as Americans wish it to be so, there is no magic elixir that results in weight loss. Like most things worth having, losing weight and getting in shape requires a little bit of work.

That bit of knowledge won’t prevent the next huckster from coming along and selling the next miracle diet to the public. People have been falling prey to snake-oil salesman for, oh, probably as long as there has been commerce — and that will continue. As bogus weight-loss claims continue to prove, P.T. Barnum was right.