In a joint crackdown on false diet claims with the government, the Jung Tung Foundation yesterday unveiled marketing ruses seen on TV and major newspapers, reminding the public not to squander money on bogus weight loss products.
"The deceptive weight-loss advertising has become an everyday practice here," warned Chen Lu-hung (陳陸宏), director of the Department of Health's Food Safety Bureau.
"The public needs to know that there is not a single health food in the market that can help people shake off fat," he said.
According to the foundation's data, almost all popular diet products that promise significant weight loss -- even if consumers don't decrease their food intake or increase their exercise -- are deceptive.
The foundation is calling on the public to boycott such products as "Leto," (麗托藍藻) -- a dietary supplement of what the manufacturer called "Mediterranean blue-green algae." Advocated by curvaceous, middle-age astrologer Tang Lee-chi (唐立淇), the product costs NT$70,000 for three months' supply and promises buyers a 20kg loss in three months.
With Flower Herbal Slim Tea (花草瘦身法), consumers are told that they can lose up to 30kg if they drink a cup after each meal to neutralize and digest fattening food. A woman claimed in a TV commercial that her father couldn't even recognize her after she had lost 34kg.
Other misleading commercials include "Nano Jasmine Diet Tea" (奈米茉莉綠茶), "Slimlife MC," "Beautiful Sleepless Night"(美麗夜未眠) and a host of others.
"These claims are misleading and deceitful," said Sheu Hui-yu (許惠玉), the foundation's chief of nutrition intervention and evaluation. "But these ads have run on the pages of major newspapers and on popular TV channels, all of which lend an air of credibility to these outlandish claims."
Alarmingly, many ingredients boasted by manufactures to create weight loss are actually medicines to treat various illnesses.
According to the foundation's analysis, many diet products contain diuretics often used to treat leg swelling, anti-epilepsy drugs, laxatives, and anti-depressants, just to name a few.
"Every medicine has its side effect," warned Hsiao Dun-zen (蕭敦仁), a gastroenterology doctor at the National Taiwan University Hospital. "To gulp down such a combination of drugs is detrimental."
Faced with the bedazzling display of weight loss products on store shelves, those obsessed with slimness should give a second thought to product safety, efficacy, and price, Hsiao said.
"We should always ask five questions: What are the side effects? How long does the food therapy take? How many among every 100 consumers respond to the product? How much does it cost? Will my girth start to widen again after I stop consuming the product?" Hsiao said.
Currently, only two diet prescription drugs -- Reductil and Xenical -- are approved by the DOH. Yet even the legal prescription pills are overused, Hsiao warned.
"Now you can get Reductil or Xenical at any pharmacist without a doctor's prescription," he said.
"Some even wind up in the emergency room because of the Reductil-incurred dehydration," he said.