If you've ever wondered whether diet foods and pills can really help you lose weight, or what the rules are about advertising these products, read on.
It's tempting to get sucked in by the media, and start thinking that the only way to be attractive is to be super-thin. The diet food industry is big business and before you buy into it, here are a few things you should know about diet foods:
- No single product labelled 'diet', 'lite', or 'low-calorie' can help you to lose weight.
- If you don't modify your whole diet and take regular exercise, you won't lose weight.
- Diet foods commonly contain artificial additives such as colours, flavours, flavour enhancers, thickeners, and so on, to make them more appealing or palatable.
- Some nutritionists think that 'lite' foods encourage the continued use of junk food, rather than promoting healthy eating.
Expensive diet foods may contain more water than their cheaper, non-diet counterparts. Why pay so much for added water?
- Low-fat products often contain more refined sugar than similar full-fat products. Check the label.
Pills, props and potions
Look in any national paper, teen or women's magazine, or slimming magazine. Advertised products and services are everywhere and include: tablets, creams, slimming clubs, supplements, body wraps, slimming belts, books, videos, alternative therapies, and diet foods.
Weight loss products are sometimes marketed using outrageous claims. Fortunately, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) exists to prevent misleading claims and exaggerations. It has an advertising code for diet foods and slimming products, and regulates adverts in newspapers, magazines, and leaflets.
The majority of 'miracle weight loss' claims seem to be made in adverts in tabloid newspapers. However, adverts on the internet are a bit of a grey area, so consumers should be very careful if they're tempted to buy online.
Rules for slimming adverts:
- They should never be aimed at anyone under 18.
- They must not give the impression that you can eat as much as you like and still lose weight.
- They should not suggest the amount of weight that will be lost during a certain period.
- They should not suggest that being underweight is healthy.
- If medicinal claims are made about a product (e.g. it boosts thyroid function), the product should have a Medicinal Licence.
- If a product claims to have a specific effect (e.g. speeds up metabolism), it must be backed up with firm scientific evidence from practical trials.
- Vitamins and minerals must not be promoted as weight loss products, but they can be offered as supplements to those on restricted diets.
- Advertisers promoting diets that fall below 800 calories per day should encourage users to take medical advice before embarking on them.
- Short-term loss of girth may be achieved by wearing a tight-fitting garment. This should not be described as permanent, nor should it be confused with weight loss.
"Claims for slimming products are frequently misleading and sometimes even dangerous," says Kath Dalmeny of the Food Commission. Don't fall for the products that claim to give you a quick and easy fix, or tell you they have 'miracle fat-burning powers.' Obesity requires medical attention, so don't be tempted to diagnose and treat yourself, go to see your GP instead.
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