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Seniors Should Avoid Phony Weight-Loss Products

They claim to help us lose weight, but they only lighten our wallets.

Are you thinking about a spring diet? It’s the time of year when many of us might be putting on shorts and pulling out our swimsuits, only to realize that we’ve let our exercise and eating plan lapse during the darker, cooler months.

Maintaining a healthy weight isn’t all about how we look in our swimsuit, of course! Being overweight raises our risk of heart disease, stroke, osteoporosis, arthritis, diabetes, and even dementia. This is true for people of every age. Years ago, doctors worried most when a senior was underweight—but today, older adults are just as likely to experience a loss of independence and health due to obesity. Maybe a senior comes home from a doctor appointment with the advice to lose 30 pounds, along with a diet and exercise program. It sounds like it will take a lot of work and willpower! Is there an easier way to shed that fat?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warn that unscrupulous companies have created literally thousands of phony products that claim to help us lose weight, but are useless—or even harmful. These include supplements and other medications, fake medical devices, and “miracle” exercise equipment.

We’re bombarded by their advertising on TV, in magazines, and on the internet. These crooks create elaborate infomercials and official-looking websites—based on no science or evidence whatsoever, but with a big marketing budget. The hire celebrity spokespersons to win our confidence. Or maybe our friends have been conned into selling these products, and urge us to buy their “miracle weight loss shake” or “super berry supplement.” Seniors may be especially vulnerable to these sales pitches.

How can we spot a fraudulent weight-loss product? The FTC urges consumers to scrutinize the claims of products and programs for the following seven surefire signs that a company is selling a worthless product:

  1. “Lose weight without diet or exercise!” Getting to a healthy weight takes work. Take a pass on any product that promises miraculous results without the effort. The only thing you’ll lose is money.
  2. “Lose weight no matter how much you eat of your favorite foods!” Beware of any product that claims that you can eat all the high-calorie food you want and still lose weight. Losing weight requires sensible food choices. Filling up on healthy vegetables and fruits can make it easier to say no to fattening sweets and snacks.
  3. “Lose weight permanently! Never diet again!” Even if you’re successful in taking weight off, permanent weight loss requires permanent lifestyle changes. Don’t trust any product that promises once-and-for-all results without ongoing maintenance.
  4. “Just take a pill!” Doctors, dieticians, and other experts agree that there’s simply no magic way to lose weight without diet or exercise. Even pills approved by FDA to block the absorption of fat or help you eat less and feel full are to be taken with a low-calorie, low-fat diet and regular exercise.
  5. “Lose 30 pounds in 30 days!” Losing weight at the rate of a pound or two a week is the most effective way to take it off and keep it off. At best, products promising lightning-fast weight loss are a scam. At worst, they can ruin your health.
  6. “Everybody will lose weight!” Your own habits and health concerns are unique. There is no one-size-fits-all product guaranteed to work for everyone. Team up with your healthcare provider to design a nutrition and exercise program suited to your lifestyle and metabolism.
  7. “Lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream!” You’ve seen the ads for diet patches or creams that claim to melt away the pounds. Don’t believe them. There’s nothing you can wear or apply to your skin that will cause you to lose weight.

Bottom line, when it comes to weight loss claims, if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely isn’t. Talk to your doctor about a weight-loss program that is right for you. For seniors, an effective plan will most likely include:

  • A slow, steady loss of weight rather than a “crash diet” with rapid weight loss
  • A diet with more plant-based foods, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Increased exercise, both to burn calories and control appetite
  • Education about portion control
  • A “buddy system,” such as a support group, senior center program, or a weight-loss class through a reputable organization.

Source: IlluminAge AgeWise; checklist from the Federal Trade Commission.

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