BBB: Weight Loss, Diet & Health Club Programs

(KTVI) - Almost as soon as consumers push away from holiday dinner tables, advertising for weight loss products and health clubs begins to hit the airwaves, the Internet, newspapers and other media.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises consumers to be skeptical of ads promising quick and easy ways to lose weight. Doctors, dietitians and other experts agree that the best way to lose weight is to eat less and increase your physical activity so you burn more energy.

At this time of year, you’re likely to see claims such as, “Lose weight without diet or exercise,” “Block the absorption of fat, carbs or calories!” or “Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream.” Some companies use celebrity endorsements to promote their products.

One particularly annoying ad online shows a woman’s midriff that shrinks and expands, while promoting “one weird trick” or tip to lose weight that is revealed if you click on the ad. The Federal Trade Commission has linked the belly ad and similar ones to a network of companies that promote everything from African mangoes to potions made from acai berries. The FTC says that millions of people have been conned by the ads.

“Deceptive ads lure consumers into buying diet pills, treatments or ‘cures’ with the promise of better health, fitness or appearance,” said Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO. “But many of these products are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration and may be ineffective or even harmful. In most cases, they’re a waste of money.”

The BBB processes hundreds of complaints against weight loss products and health clubs every year. Complaints range from recurrent charges on credit cards for “free” products to dissatisfaction with the hours or service provided by fitness clubs.

The BBB advises you to watch for false claims and consider your needs and budget:

  1. Avoid products that claim to help you lose weight without diet or exercise. Doctors, dietitians and other experts agree that losing weight takes work. Pass up any product that promises miraculous results without any effort.
  2. Be skeptical of claims that you don’t have to give up favorite foods or reduce the amount you consume. Try filling up on healthy vegetables and fruits so you can resist high-calorie treats. However, eliminating all your favorites could set you up to fail. It’s better to limit portion size or how frequently you indulge.
  3. Determine your fitness goals. It’s hard work to lose weight, and you need to find a program you can stick with, and preferably one that you enjoy. Find a health club or exercise facility that is convenient and that offers times that fit with your schedule.
  4. Visit the facility before joining. Check on cleanliness, adequacy of space, machines and qualifications of instructors and any other factors important to you. Ask if you can try the facility out before you join.
  5. Consider your budget. Ask the health club about joining or enrollment fees and ongoing monthly costs. Does a weight loss plan require you to buy special foods? Can you cancel if you move or find that the program doesn’t meet your needs? If the facility closes, can you transfer your membership to another facility?
  6. Read the entire contract. Does it list all services and facilities and hours of operation? Is everything the saleperson promised included in the contract? What’s included in the monthly fee and what will cost you extra? What is the total cost, including enrollment fees and finance charges?
  7. Check with the BBB first. Anyone can check a company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300 during business hours. Look at the firm’s complaint history and whether the complaints were resolved.

In Missouri, consumers have three days after signing a contract with a health spa to cancel the agreement. Clubs must refund money within 30 days if they cancel within three days. Consumers aren’t responsible for the balance due on a health club contract if the club has closed and failed to provide alternative services within 10 miles of its original location.

Before starting an exercise program or diet, the BBB advises consumers to consult a doctor for an assessment of over-all health risk. Get the doctor’s recommendations on weight-loss options and/or exercise regimens that fit your health status and ability to stick with it.

If your doctor prescribes a medication to assist in weight loss, ask about complications or side effects. Tell the doctor about other medications or over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements you may be taking.    

A BBB video on this topic is available at http://youtu.be/vyLU-UIdxmM

Consumers can learn how to protect themselves or find a BBB Business Review by going to www.bbb.org or by calling 314-645-3300.