Sunday, May 6, 2007

Americans are Waging a Losing War Against ObesityBy Christine Park

Americans are Waging a Losing War Against ObesityBy Christine Park
05/04/2007 - 60 million people in the United States are considered obese. This has created a $35B market for dozens of diet products and programs. But, before you choose a program, Action News Consumer Reporter Christine Park has some important information.

If you believe the images on TV, in movies or magazines, Americans are a thin bunch. But, the reality is 64% of American adults are overweight and 33% are obese.
Dieter Carol McClain says, "The doctors told me if I did not change what I was doing, I would probably have a full-blown heart attack before I was 45."

Countless weight loss companies offer a way to drop pounds...for a price.

We compared the costs of some of the most popular programs out there. On top of enrollment fees were:

Weight Watchers charges $10 to $13 per week
Jenny Craig will cost you about $100 a week for food
Nutrisystem charges $326 for a month's worth of food
LA Weight Loss starts at $10-99 a week
Dieter Della Caver says, "...and so I called, and I said how much is it, and she says, $10-99 a week and I said perfect!" Della Caver says it was the pay-as-you-go idea that initially lured her into the LA Weight Loss office at River Park.

She is one of 6 women who contacted Action News Consumer Watch saying they felt misled by LA Weight Loss. They ended up spending hundreds, even thousands of dollars, after they found out everything had to be paid up front. That included signing a year long contract and buying supplements and pills that staff insisted were essential to the program.

Della says, "It was a little over $1100, $1200 basically. After they calculate how much weight you want to lose, then you have to do a 52 week maintenance program, then you have to buy the product. And that's separate."

Lorraine Burrow says LA Weight Loss sales counselors pushed her hard and she ended up forking over $1,400 for her plan. She says, "I said 'no, I'm sorry. I can't afford it'. And she looks at me and says, you really do want to lose weight, don't you? This is the way you will lose it fast and easy."

Both Lorraine and Della said the products made them sick. They tried to get refunds, but haven't succeeded. LA Weight Loss *has* resolved two of the complaints we received with refunds.

Attorney Generals in two states, Washington and New York, investigated LA Weight Loss' advertising and sales practices. Without admitting to wrongdoing, the company agreed to nearly a million dollars worth of settlements in those cases.

LA Weight Loss isn't the only weight loss company in trouble with the government, either. In January, the FTC reached a settlement of $25M with four weight loss pill companies for making false, unsubstantiated health claims about products.

The makers of Xenadrine EFX, Cortislim, Trim Spa and One-a-Day Weight Smart agreed to curb their advertising and pay the fines. They remain on store shelves.

Kaiser Permanente Doctor Devi Pondacherry says popping pills can be dangerous. "It's an issue whether you want to live healthy or whether you want to be slim and die early. We don't believe in any kind of pills and there's no magic pills to lose weight."

Truth is, the only long-term solution is a lifestyle change that includes a well-balanced diet and exercise. That's why Carol McLain says Weight Watchers works for her. She says, "...tried every diet you could think of, and nothing seemed to work. I came here in a last attempt, desperate."

The program emphasizes low-fat, high-fiber meals based on a point system and group support meetings. It is top-rated by Consumer Reports and often recommended by doctors.

For some, LA Weight Loss is the way to go. The company provided some success stories like Tena Evans, who lost 140 pounds. Evans says, "I figure it's $10 a day for me. You don't have to use their products. It may cost a lot, but gastric bypass is a lot, a heart attack is a lot."

Lisa Bennett is now 35 pounds lighter. She says she never felt misled or pressured by LA Weight Loss and the year long contract worked in her favor. She says, "If you don't keep it off for a year after losing the weight, your success is gonna go down. So by paying up front, I knew I'd be successful."

In response to this story, Action News received the following statement from Jackie Zima of LA Weight Loss:

"Since 1989, LA Weight Loss has helped hundreds of thousands of individuals lose weight and live healthier lives. In fact, the health of our clients is LA Weight Loss's number one concern. All LA Weight Loss programs and products are developed with our Research & Development department and reviewed by our medical director and team of registered dieticians. The track record of LA Weight Loss-it's meal plans and products-show them to be safe, and they work. However, our refund policy is clear. If a client's physician objects to their patient participating in LA Weight Loss, then the patient is eligible for a refund. The employees named in your emails are no longer with the company, and we are working with the LA Weight Loss franchise in Fresno to continue contacting these clients and refund their money. We're sorry if there was confusion about our refund policy, which we believe is fair and responsive to our client's needs. "

To learn more about the Consumer Reports Diet Ratings, please visit: