EDITORIAL: Read This and Lose Weight!

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Who wants to lose weight and not do any exercise? I do! I do! That's the too-good-to-be-true answer consumers are looking for these days, and that's why there are products like Fat-Be-Gone, Fen-phen and Exercise in a Bottle. Consumers want a quick fix, and marketers -- some fraudulent -- have seized on that mentality to hype their products. Meanwhile, complaints about misleading diet ads have more than tripled at the Federal Trade Commission. "We're in the Wild West of advertising right now," Andrea Levine, who's with the Better Business Bureau, told The New York Times last week for the story "Fraudulent Marketers Capitalize on Demand for Sweat-Free Diets."

Enforma Natural Products got into trouble this year with its Exercise in a Bottle infomercial. In April, the company paid $10 million to settle charges that it had made false and unsubstantiated claims. Then in September, the FTC sued the product's celebrity endorser, former baseball star Steve Garvey, because he was receiving a monthly royalty payment. Just how effective is Exercise in a Bottle? Here's this from BoobToob.net, a Web site that not only gives the dish on many TV shows (mainly oriented toward younger viewers) but also has a section on infomercial products vs. their retail counterparts: "Exercise in a Bottle is a two-pill system that supposedly blocks the fat from your digestion so you can eat anything you want. Well, it does that, but it also blocks you from the good fats that you need to be healthy. What's the exercise part? Basically, it's speed. Yeah, that's really healthy." The site rated Exercise in a Bottle against The Pulse, a "little shock thing you wear around your waist that makes you contract your stomach muscles. ... When are people going to learn that the only thing that works well is exercise?" Now there's a novel thought: actually doing some work to stay in shape.

Spending on infomercials for weight-loss products has more than doubled in recent years, from $43.1 million in 1995 to $107.5 million last year, according to the Times. Why? "With the fragmentation of the viewing audience, television stations are in many cases looking the other way and accepting anything that has significant dollars attached," said Elissa Myers, president of the Electronic Retailing Association.

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