Looking for a new gimmick to jump-start your New Year's diet? How about a real staple that pierces cartilage in your upper ear to suppress appetite? Or a detoxification plan said to clean toxins and pollution out of your body?
"Save your money -- and save your health," says Francie M. Berg, chair of the Weight Loss Abuse Task Force of the National Council against Health Fraud. These are just two of year's worst weight loss schemes highlighted by Berg in the group's 18th annual Slim Chance Awards.
"There are countless products out there that promise quick weight loss. Most of them are total scams that make your wallet thinner, but not your body. Some cause injury and death. And in a dangerous new trend they now target children," Berg noted.
An unusual glut of unsafe products has flooded the market this year, according to Berg. Both the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration actively pursued weight loss fraud, but are hampered by having to do it on a case-by-case basis and usually getting only consent agreements.
Berg's organization, Healthy Weight Network, started the Slim Chance Awards 18 years ago. They are part of the lead-up to Healthy Weight Week, January 21 to 27, which offers a release from restrictive New Year dieting.
Americans typically begin a diet the first week in January, blow it the second week, and by the third week many are ready for lasting lifestyle changes that can make a real difference in their lives.
"We want to shift our national focus to health and wellness, to acceptance, respect, and an appreciation of diversity," Berg said. "It's time to move on from the war so many Americans are waging against their own bodies. The obsession with thinness is causing tragic problems for both children and adults."
The 2006 Slim Chance Awards:
• Worst Claim: ChitoGenics Billing himself as a "consumer advocate and trouble-shooter," Texas radio personality Tom Martino tells listeners ChitoGenics has transformed his once chubby body to rock hard.
ChitoGenic ads laud his credibility: "Tired of false claims and advertising? So are we! You can believe what this man says ... Tom has made a distinguished career of exposing liars, cheats, rip-offs and scams... when he likes something ... you can bet it works!"
The ChitoGenic stable of cures for the person who wants to lose, say, "20 pounds in one week ... without dieting" includes ChitoGold, ChitoGenics Mahuang, PowerUp Weight Loss Formula and Plus Chito Patches. Claims to be the "leader when it comes to blending herbs that effectively block sugars, carbohydrates, and fats in your diet ... combined with a natural appetite suppressant fat and filtering for cholesterol health." (Undisclosed: kickbacks to radio hosts.)
• Worst Product: PediaLean Advertised in tabloids and magazines including the Enquirer and Redbook, PediaLean is a fiber capsule claimed to cause substantial weight loss in overweight children.
Allegedly it is "clinically proven safe and effective for use by overweight children and adolescents," but experts say the Italian study offered provides no valid scientific proof, is poorly designed, had a high dropout rate, and revealed abdominal discomfort in many of the children tested.
Its active ingredient glucomannan is known to swell in the body and can clump and form an obstructive mass, sometimes causing esophageal and gastrointestinal obstruction. PediaLean is one of six weight loss products for which the FTC, as of May 2006, is requiring payment of $3 million to settle deceptive claim violations.
• Most Outrageous Claim: Isacleanse The detox idea is seemingly the perfect scam -- it sets up a problem that doesn't exist, then provides a solution.
Ads for Isacleanse warn of toxins building up, clogging organs and deteriorating the body -- unless regularly detoxified. (This doesn't happen, as the human body is naturally self-cleaning.)
A "healthier, leaner body" is promised in 30 days through ingesting a medicine chest full of Isagenix cures including IsaFlush for "regularity," diuretics, aloe pills, vitamins, ionic trace minerals, electrolyte drinks, Isalean Shakes and herbal teas.
For those who are frankly more interested in wealth-building, Isagenix turns a neat trick; on the same web page it alternately pushes a get-rich-quick scheme for deceiving others about the need to detoxify.
• Worst Gimmick: Magic Ear Staple What's new is that this is a real staple, piercing the band of cartilage in the upper ear where, supposedly, it presses on an acupressure point that curbs appetite. It's newly illegal in Florida.
Recent damaging publicity in Mississippi was related to infections from "underground operations in parking garages, bathrooms, coin laundries and the back seats of cars," complains Marie Fallow, a Mississippi-based ear stapler. Fallow says she has stapled ears of some 3,000 clients, is doing 2,400 new ears a month, and charges $75 for both ears.
Training offered by chiropractor Carissa Hamilton-Toups of southern Louisiana costs $850 for one afternoon class (in which students staple each other) or $1200 for a private session. Trainees leave armed with two staple guns, a set of rubber ears, staple remover, paperwork to immediately get started in the stapling business, and a warning: remove staples in four weeks or risk severe infection and the staples becoming embedded.
Last year's "winners" were Shape up with Dr Phil, Jana Skinny Water, Nutrathin with Hoodia, and Body Shape by Hydroderm.
Slim Chance award sponsors are Healthy Weight Network, the Society for Nutrition Education and the National Council against Health Fraud.