A noble move, especially given that some of its own members
have been exposed for doing just that.
To lose weight, you have to eat less or move more,
For the obese or the moderately overweight person, this is
an unpalatable truth, which is why the "lose weight fast!" product
industry rakes in such huge profits.
It's an industry which is virtually completely unregulated
by the government, hence the outrageous claims. But there is one body which can
call them to account in a sense - the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA).
The ASA's code stipulates that all advertising for
"diet aid" products - fat burners, fat blockers, craving curbers,
metabolism boosters, etcetera - must make it clear that "they can only be
effective when taken in conjunction with or as part of a kilojoule controlled
In the past three years, Cape Town scientist and department
of health adviser Dr Harris Steinman has lodged many complaints of misleading
advertising against slimming products, most of them upheld by the ASA on the
grounds that the claims were not adequately substantiated by the manufacturers.
Enter the Health Products Association (HPA), which in
recent weeks has been telling the media about its new
"self-regulation" plans, in order to expose the industry's charlatans,
most of them, it claims, "are not members of the HPA".
Ironcially, a few of the HPA's own members have been found
by the ASA to have been making exaggerated claims of effectiveness, particularly
with regard to slimming products.
Bioslim manufacturer Glomail, for one. The company holds
the record in the "lose weight fast and effortlessly" product category
for the most ASA complaints, and in March last year the ASA imposed sanctions on
Glomail's Bioslim Fat Attack adverts for disregarding an earlier ruling.
Over the years, the company has been forced to amend its
"eat what you like and still lose weight!" print and TV adverts to
make it clearer to consumers that the product is only effective when used in
conjunction with a "kilojoule controlled, balanced diet".
Another HPA member, Herbology, had a complaint against its
weight loss product upheld because its advert didn't include the "only
effective with" line.
The Ultima Fat Away product is a classic case, in light of
the HPA's proclaimed stance on exaggerated or misleading claims.
In November 2004, the ASA considered a complaint lodged by
Steinman against Advanced Health Foods' product Ultima Fat Away, calling on the
company to substantiate its claim that the product "effectively blocks fat
absorption", "helps eliminate existing body fat" and "energises
and boosts metabolic rate".
The ASA requires that companies have their marketing claims
verified by an "independent, credible expert in the field" as the
regulatory body does not have the resources or expertise to critically evaluate
such claims itself.
According to HPA secretary Deirdre Allen, Advanced Health
Foods was an HPA member until its resignation "about two years ago".
But its products remain on store shelves, prominently
bearing the words "member of the Health Products Association".
This week, Steinman found boxes of Ultima Fat Away, bearing
the discredited claims, on the shelves of two
Even if the company had sold huge stocks of the stuff to
retailers before the arbitration finding - and the ASA can't stop the retailers
from selling existing stock - it's unethical.
I asked the HPA whether it felt that the fact that some of
its members had been found by the ASA to be making weight loss claims they could
not adequately substantiate was not perhaps a little problematic, in light of
its bid to stamp out such practices.
Chairman Alan Tomlinson responded: "(The HPA) has
never engaged in any surveillance programme relating to our members in the past,
but we are now aware that this activity is necessary for our own members and any
other companies marketing in
"Our objectives are to both promote and protect the
industry. We believe that our new self-monitoring initiative will help bring to
light any inadequacies in the market place.
"We shall act without partiality against both HPA
members and non-members if irregularities are uncovered."
In recent months, several "weight loss" bottled
water products have hit the market, along with products that claim to curb one's
appetite in truly miraculous ways - there's the "sniff and feel full"
one a lip gloss which allegedly not only adds shine to your lips but curbs your
appetite as well, and a toothpaste which claims to contain a homeopathic formula
which is absorbed by the bloodstream through the lining of the mouth and sends a
signal to your brain that you are full.