Weight Loss Claims: Do You Have a Right to Be Lied To?

How much do you think you are influenced by the media? Has marketing and advertising affected how you’ve tried to take control of your weight? Most definitely. We’ve all bought products, we’ve all bought gadgets, we’ve all tried programs. Even when we think we’re finally getting smart, some product will come along with a pitch so persuasive, we find ourselves seduced once again, desperately wanting to believe…this time, it will work.

There’s news coming out of the UK about something we’ve seen very rarely here in the US. Great Britain has passed what may be the toughest requirements for weight loss advertising in the world. Read the actual guidelines here or Dr. Yoni Freedhoff’s nice summary here. Among the claims that could no longer be made:

  • Cannot justify the efficacy of an unproven weight loss method by saying it must be combined with a diet. Never again would you see the small print that says “when combined with a sensible diet and exercise” during some fat burner commercial.
  • Cannot say that you could still lose weight by not changing your diet or while eating your favorite foods, which are suggested to be indulgent foods. Hear that Lipozene guys?
  • Cannot say that a person can lose a particular amount of weight in a specific amount of time. That’s a big one for me and was included in HealthHabits.ca’s recent “Bullshit Detector.”
  • Claims made for exercise equipment must be proven. I’d assume that would mean no more super-ripped people using gadgets on TV.
  • No more weight loss “garments” like those belts to reduce belly fat.

Did a zillion commercials just run through your head? When I read this list I can’t help but think of specific ads! I wonder if Dr. Oz would have anything to talk about anymore. Infomercials would probably get strange.

We Americans tend to get a bit testy if we think our right to free speech is being violated. We’ve seen this kind of thing very rarely, primarily with cigarettes, liquor, and advertisements that target children. But just think about it! It’s mind-boggling! Guidelines like this in the US would have a MASSIVE impact on the avalanche of weight loss ads and content we’re exposed to! Would we yell and scream that our rights are being infringed upon in some way? Changing the way a product is advertised doesn’t mean it can’t be sold. You can still buy cigarettes even though you haven’t seen a commercial for them in years. I think Doug Robb of HealthHabits.ca puts the ad requirements in the best perspective:

Instead of enacting food bans or taxing single food categories, set up rules that make it difficult for snake-oil salesmen to peddle their bottles of false hope.

For everyone who’s opposed the ban on soda over 16 oz in New York City (that includes me), I think we could see positive results from changing the claims that can be made in ads. The simple reason is because these ads lie to you.

Most of them make the claims they do because they find a way to sneak in some kind of disclaimer and they wouldn’t be able to do that anymore.

Real change happens on a macro level when public opinion shifts. We’ve seen it with cigarettes. The health warnings started in the 1960s but things really changed when a social stigma against cigarettes developed. When the ads were gone, cigarettes weren’t seen as cool and fun anymore. We didn’t see them much on TV or in the movies, and when we did, only the ugly bad guy smoked. As more public places became smoke-free, we lost our familiarity with cigarettes and non-smokers refused to tolerate them on the rare occasions they caught a stinky whiff. It became acceptable to exile smokers to the filthy alley next to the dumpsters. So more people quit. I don’t even have any friends who smoke anymore.

What would happen if we no longer heard “It’s so easy all you have to do is eat delicious food!” “Takes only minutes a day!” “You don’t have to give up your favorite foods!” “Just swallow two capsules with every meal!” And my personal favorite—“Boost your metabolism for hours!” Do you think you might start to change where you look for new strategies and solutions? When you look, will you find truth instead of deceptive sales pitches? I think it would take awhile but it could be possible that the desperate search for the quick, easy fix might go into decline if we’re exposed to fewer sales pitches for that quick, easy fix. So if you didn’t buy that bottle of false hope, what do you think you might do instead?

Weight loss is never easy. It takes real work and real lifestyle changes. It takes consistency, sacrifice, effort, and sweat. For those of us with a significant amount of weight to lose, years of struggle and failure can detract from our quality of life as much as the weight itself. Our human nature will drive us to continue to seek out that easy solution but if we’re no longer being told it exists, could we start to let go of that false hope?

If all we hear is truth, maybe we’ll finally accept it. And when we do, it shall set us free!