Sunday, April 22, 2012

Weekend Post - The science and pseudoscience of weight-loss

In all the areas of health science you’ll undoubtedly find the largest quantities of claptrap, hogwash and nonsense in the marketing of weight-loss products.

Let’s start with the basics. Despite what many so-called experts and all the charlatans and frauds will tell you, there is only one way to lose weight. Consume fewer calories than you expend. That’s it, that’s all there is to it. The best way to use excess calories is to take some exercise, the best way to reduce the number you take in is to swallow less of them.

A recent study in the USA confirmed this. Surveying over 4,000 overweight adults they examined the strategies they used to lose weight and the success or failure they experienced. The only successful strategies they found were reducing fat in the diet, increasing exercise, taking certain medications prescribed by a doctor and joining a formal weight loss program. Nothing else worked. Buying “over the counter” products achieved precisely nothing.

The other key piece of truth about sustained weight loss is that it’s never easy. It takes time for this approach to work and if you want the benefits to last you need to make these changes permanently. Long-term weight-loss requires a change in lifestyle. In the US study 63% of the sample were trying to lose weight but only 40% reported losing more than 5% of their weight and only 20% of them lost more than 10%.

This is why you see such a wealth of gibberish from fraudsters offering faster solutions or solutions that require no effort. Most of us want to avoid the hard work.

Anyone who uses Facebook may have recently seen an advertisement for "HCG Ultra Diet Drops" showing a picture of two small medicine bottles. These drops, the suppliers claim, have some remarkable qualities. They claim that if you buy these the drops you can:
"Loose 0.4kg to 1kg per day safely with an all natural homeopathic product."
Firstly that claim is just stupid. It’s impossible to lose 1kg per day, let alone safely. They go further and suggest that:
"HCG is like no other diet you have tried before. It burns the unwanted, deep tissue fat that no other diet can reach but leaves structural and normal fat."

This is, of course, complete nonsense. HCG is a hormone, human chorionic gonadotropin, that is produced by women during pregnancy but also by a growing embryo and by its placenta. As a result of some pretty dubious logic an otherwise respectable scientist, Albert Simeons, came up with a theory half a century ago that small doses of HCG, in conjunction with an extremely low calorie diet could aid weight loss. The obvious observation is that it was the absence of calories that achieved the weight loss, not the hormone but obvious facts have never deterred frauds from selling bogus cures.

The problem with this theory about HCG is simple. It’s not true. There is precisely no evidence that it is effective. Various trials have shown that it has absolutely no effect whatsoever.

What’s more the US Food and Drug Administration have instructed several companies marketing HCG products for weight-loss to stop it. They’ve also issued public warnings, one of which described the products as “Fraudulent HCG Products for Weight Loss” and another that was entitled “HCG Diet Products Are Illegal”. They say, very clearly, that “HCG products marketed as weight loss aids are unproven and illegal”. Well they are in the USA but that doesn’t stop the crooks marketing them here in Africa.

Of course one option for the fraudsters is to market these bogus products as “homeopathic” which would mean they contain no HCG at all. That’s what they say in their advertisement but it’s not what they claim when you ask them. When I emailed the Facebook advertiser, who’s based in Namibia, she told me that her drops do indeed:
"contain the HCG hormone and is a real HCG product. The market is being flooded with fake HCG products but HCG Ultra Diet Drops are not one of them."
So it’s clear. Anyone selling these drops in the USA would be fined or put behind bars but, as always, they think they can get away with it in Africa. Not only are these HCG drops useless, they’re peddled by charlatans, crooks and frauds. Isn’t it time that they were stopped from selling dangerous, pseudoscientific miracle products here as well?

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