Sensa: Just another senseless supplement
Shake. Eat. Lose weight. Really? That’s all you have to do? According to the Sensa weight loss supplement advertisements—yes.
After years marketing and selling their product, Sensa was charged $34 billion along with a few other companies for false and misleading weight loss advertising by the Federal Trade Commission as mentioned in this NY Times article Weight loss companies charged with fraud.
On Your World with Neil Cavuto, my colleague, registered dietitian nutritionist Rebecca Scritchfield debated Melissa Francis (host of Fox Network’s MONEY with Melissa Francis) on the need for government involvement. Melissa remarked, “We don’t need the government to save us from this stupidity.” Oh Melissa, but we do. People will forever look for the latest greatest magic pill that will melt away unwelcome fat. And unscrupulous supplement manufacturers will forever be offering the newest ‘skinny’ pill with a high speed diet formula used by top fashion models that will help you lose 15 pounds a week forcing your body to release unwanted body fat with a revolutionary system that requires no impossible exercise, no dieting, no missed meals, no changing habits, no boring foods, no calorie counting, no harmful drugs!
These are actual captions and headings in print advertisements I’ve come across in the past few years. (I keep a file—it makes for good show-and-tell in the college classes I teach.) These are modest compared to what claims I see on the internet.
- “Super-Powerful ‘Diet Pills’ Make Comeback”
- “It Burns Off More Fat Than Running 98 Miles Per Week!”
- “Body Fat is Almost Immediately Destroyed and Flushed Right Out of Your Body!”
- “…contains an enormously effective ingredient from the Himalayas now available in the US for the first time!”
- “New High-Speed Diet Formula Used by Top Fashion Models Produces an Extremely Fast Weight Loss!”
As a healthcare professional and registered dietitian nutritionist I just roll my eyes because I know better. You might say it’s a mission I have to save people their hard earned dollars. But so many people fall for these ridiculous claims. All. The. Time. If they didn’t, these ads—and products—would fade away.
People may believe in products, swear by them, and even sell them because they’re so assured of their effectiveness. Why? Because they can be effective. What? Here is why: the placebo effect. It’s the beneficial effect due to a person’s belief in a treatment. If you believe that a pill, potion, lotion, or whatever is going to make you (fill in the blank) feel better, look better, have more energy, lose weight is it the product or that you expect it to work/want it to work that you will make it work. The mind is very powerful. If a product—albeit a worthless one—may help someone (because they believe it will) who am I to argue? As long as 1) they can afford it and 2) it does not cause harm.
According to Marketdata Enterprises, consumers are expected to spend $66 billion this year on products related to weight loss—diet soft drinks, health club memberships, dietary supplements. Unlike food additives or drugs, supplements do not need to be proven safe and effective nor do they need the US Food and Drug Administration’s approval before being sold because of a law passed in 1994—the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act (DSHEA). There are no standards for potency or dosage and no requirements for providing warnings of potential side effects for supplements. Should a problem arise, the burden falls to the FDA to prove that the supplement poses a “significant or unreasonable risk of illness or injury.” Only then will it be removed from the market.
Neil Cavuto’s show continued with Rebecca commenting, “It should be common sense that you just don’t sprinkle powder on donuts, eat as much as you want and lose weight.” Indeed it should be common sense, but so many people fall for it. As Rebecca pointed out, consumers are desperate so they want to believe that’s going to be the magic pill.
“The news media should be out there telling you that this stuff is a fraud and that it doesn’t work…it’s an opportunity for us to do a great story,” Melissa stated. Yes. Yes. Yes! Please Melissa, use your voice. Spread the word.