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Avoiding Nutritional Quackery

2006: Volume 3, Number 1


Ronda Gates, M.S. RPh

Ronda Gates is the owner of LIFESTYLES by Ronda Gates, a Lake Oswego, OR company that has been developing and delivering health promotion programs, products and consulting services since 1978. Ms. Gates developed the medical evidence-based lifestyle and weight management program, TRANSFORMATIONS.

The fields of exercise, nutrition and weight management are rife with deception. Multitudes of tricksters, savvy marketing professionals and flat out dishonest people use skillful ploys to hoodwink consumers into handing over money for worthless or even dangerous advice, products, and procedures. “Fraud” or “quackery” is how health promotion professionals describe products that contrast with information and programs about health issues that are reliable and scientifically-based.

The following signs can help you identify quackery:

  • Claims of solutions that sound “magical” or that present enticingly simple (and logical-sounding) answers to complex problems.
  • Distrust of the current methods of medicine or suspicion of the regular food supply with “alternatives” for sale (providing profit to the seller) under the guise that people should have freedom of choice. Beware of anyone claiming to be persecuted by the medical establishment—it means an amateur is making your diagnosis. They often try to convince you that physicians want to keep you ill so that you will continue to pay for office visits.
  • Evidence in the form of testimonials, case histories, and other non-scientific support for their claims. These are carefully selected and often use the name of a person who doesn’t exist. Everyone is passionate about something. Remember that famous personalities are paid big bucks for their support.
  • Testimonials and claims from various “institutions” should be checked out. For example, advertisements for Metabolife say, “Metabolife 356 was the first herbal product to achieve the A.C.E.R.I.S. Quality Assurance Seal and continues to surpass regulatory requirements.” In fact, to use a vendor’s language, this is “a lot of fancy verbiage from Metabolife.” The A.C.E.R.I.S. Quality Assurance seal is a seal that any manufacturer may purchase. The vendor does not need to demonstrate any assurance of quality or provide any documentation to use this seal—they just need to hand over money!
  • Impressive-sounding terminology used to disguise a lack of good science.
  • Evidence from “unpublished studies.” Valid scientific studies are published in reputable scientific journals.
  • LOOK CLOSELY. Marketing geniuses can advertise a product with myths and misinformation but the package you open has to tell the truth. Look at the bottle or package itself. Here are two examples:

    • Ads for chromium picolinate claim the supplement builds lean tissue and burns fat. But the bottle itself never says that because it isn’t true. Strength training builds lean tissue. Cardiovascular conditioning promotes use of stored body fat.
       

    • The box for a popular nutrition bar reads, “to burn stored body fat, you must eat the correct ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats,” but the statement isn’t on the wrapper because it isn’t true.

  • In tiny print, somewhere on a page, the word “Advertisement.”

  • Product availability from only one source.

  • Evidence that is purported to be valid because the person has a M.D. or Ph.D. degree or “has studied at a reputable institution.” Anyone can audit classes at almost any institution, and a job as a lab assistant doesn’t mean the individual has done research.

Be A Savvy Consumer.

Watch Out For:

Logic without proof

Unpublished studies

Motive of personal gain

Testimonials

Authority not cited

Suspicions about food supply

Unreliable publication

Persecution claims

Fake credentials

Simple answers

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   Too-good-to-be-true solutions


For more information
FTC: Diet and Fitness Federal Trade Commission. http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/ conline/edcams/fitness/index.html Claims that Can be Made for Conventional Foods and Dietary Supplements FDA/ Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition.

 

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(C) 2006 The Medical Wellness Association