BBB: Gyms and weight loss programs

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(KTVI) - If the holidays helped you pack on a few extra pounds or you’ve resolved to get in shape this year, Chris Thetford, from the Better Business Bureau, talks with Elliot Weiler about advice that can help you evaluate fitness clubs, gyms or weight loss programs.

Consumers filed more than 6,500 complaints in the last year against fitness centers and health clubs, including 155 complaints filed with St. Louis BBB. Many of the complaints were about centers that closed abruptlyor that refused to provide refunds to consumers who moved or were dissatisfied with the club’s programs or hours.

BBB also received more than 4,600 complaints about weight control services, health and diet products. Common complaints included never receiving products ordered, results that were not as advertised or products that caused an adverse reaction.

Misunderstandings about contract terms or cancellations are common with fitness and weight loss programs. Consumers need to ask questions and read contracts carefully to be sure they know how to cancel, what kind of notice is required and whether the gym will refund the unused portion of a contract. Some contracts automatically renew unless you cancel.

First and foremost, you need to find a club or plan that fits your needs. Before starting a program, BBB advises consumers to consult a doctor for an assessment of over-all health risks. The doctor may recommend options for losing weight or exercise programs that fit your health status and your ability to stick with a program.

Before you invest in diet or fitness plans or products, BBB advises consumers to:


  • Avoid products that claim to help you lose weight without diet or exercise. Doctors, dieticians and other experts agree that losing weight takes work. Pass up any product that promises miraculous results without any effort.
  • 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.
  • 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 your schedule.
  • Visit the facility before joining. Check on cleanliness, adequacy of space, machines and instructors and any other factors important to you. Ask if you can try the facility out before you join.
  • 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?
  • Read the entire contract. Does it list all services and facilities and hours of operation? Is everything the salesperson 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?
  • Check with the BBB first. Anyone can check a company’s BBB Business Review at or by calling 314-645-3300 during business hours. Reviews include the firm’s complaint history and whether the complaints were resolved.

If you are working with a doctor who 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. Report any changes you experience after taking the medication to the doctor.

Consumers can learn how to protect themselves or find BBB Business Reviews of businesses or charities by calling (314) 645-3300 or by going online to

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