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The Dirty Dozen of 2010

December 31, 2010

There is just something about the holiday season that brings out the warm and kind giving feeling in me.  Being one who would never question these feelings of goodwill, I have instead chosen to roll with them and share a gift with all of the people who have spent the last year visiting me here.  The gift is a list of people, products and companies who I feel are doing you, in specific, and the public, in general,  a tremendous disservice through their exposure in the health, nutrition and fitness industries.  This list I am referring to as the dirty dozen of the health and fitness world.

These are to my thinking the worst offenders, not only by their actions and  their reach, but mainly by their baldfaced greed.  In my opinion these people have put their money ahead of our well being.

The purpose of this list is not only  to hold the people who profit off of our weight problems accountable for their actions, but to more importantly, to make those who are struggling with weight issues more vigilant to and aware of  the constant challenges that are placed in front of them by ‘respected’ members of the health and wellness community.

Many of the issues that are mentioned here are part of ongoing events, that may have begun in 2009 or in some cases much earlier, but have been continuing through 2010 or reached their conclusions in this year.  It really wasn’t hard to populate this list, in fact paring it down to twelve was a very hard task.  As well, although several of the people on this list were very obvious to me, others were a complete surprise.  There is no real order to the list as I found it impossible to compare who was worse, but please feel free to suggest your choices for the worst of the worst in the comments section.

In any case, without further ado, I bring you…

The Dirty Dozen 2010

1.  Kellogg’s

There are no shortage of reasons why Kellogg’s should top this list.  The Pop Tart store in times square, the Pop Tart website, replete with games and serving suggestions that include the strangely bland, but incredibly enticing Pop Tarts Ice Cream Sandwich.  The release of more and more candy bars under the Special K diet challenge moniker.  The entire Special K diet scam and my favourite, the children doctors acting out the health benefits of Froot Loops.  This ad came out about a year ago and has continued ceaselessly on our televisions during children’s television shows ever since.  My kids can recite it by heart.  The video is shown below for anyone interested in seeing this crime against doctors, children and good taste.

The fact is, 3 grams of fibre (2 grams in Canada) is such a pathetically small increase to what was and pretty much still remains a ‘future insulin prescription’ in a bowl.  Seriously, of the 29 grams that you get in one serving, 25 of them are carbohydrates.  If you net out the fibre, you still have 22 grams of carbohydrates in 29 grams with 12 of those grams being straight sugar.  The only saving grace of this cereal is that some kids eat it in milk.

There is clearly an attempt here to make Kellogg’s cereals look like a healthy choice (certainly not the first time, after last years labelling of Froot Loops as ‘a smart choice’ by the now inactive Smart Choices program), when in fact, they clearly aren’t.  Froot Loops had to film this ad with children because even the most unscrupulous doctors refused to film this ad for them and literally any other action would have landed them in jail.  By the way, their back up plan to film it in India fell apart when the actors insisted on doing a dance routine in the middle.

Really, the list of Kellogg’s issues goes on and on, but what earned them this vaulted spot on this very unpleasant list was the recent class action lawsuit that follows in the wake of the FTC ruling that Kellogg’s was lying in its recent claims that Frosted Mini Wheats improve children’s attentiveness by up to 20%.  Not only was this not true, only a handful of kids attentiveness improved by that amount, but only about half improved at all.  The shocking thing was that this was not a comparison of Mini Wheats versus eggs and bacon, or even Rice Krispies, but Mini Wheats versus no breakfast at all!

According to topclassactions.com:

The Frosted Mini-Wheats class action lawsuit claimed that Kellogg falsely advertised that its Frosted Mini-Wheats cereal improved kids’ attentiveness, memory and other cognitive functions to a degree not supported by competent clinical evidence. Kellogg stands by its advertising and denies it did anything wrong, but has agreed to pay $2.75 million to settle the case.

Lesson: Food companies don’t care about your health, but will lie to you to make you think they do.  Do not believe any health claim from any food manufacturer, most of all cereal manufacturers.  These are literally warning signs telling you that they are hiding something.  These huge ‘Now Provides Fibre’ and ‘Low In Fat’ labels are screaming “Please, please don’t look on the back of this box”.  They know you won’t like what you see.  Reading and understanding labels is our best weapon against this unconscionable attempt to get us to believe untruths about food products.

2.  Jillian Michaels

Jillian Michaels would like you to believe that she is America’s trainer, and judging by the amount of greed in America these days, maybe she really is…  I hated having to put Jillian on this list, as I hated having a public twitter confrontation with her earlier this year.  You see, I loved Biggest Loser and if I must admit, had a bit of a crush on Jillian Michaels.

I loved her take no prisoners, no excuses allowed attitude to fitness.  I need that kind of treatment and when I have had trainers in the past, I have responded tremendously well to the nearly abusive, almost S&M quality to the trainer-victim relationship.  I get a lot of pain and the chance to impress someone and they invariably are disappointed and make me do more.  It really is a recipe for fitness.

So, when I saw Jillian Michaels selling diet pills on the television one night last year, I nearly fell out of my seat.  At first I thought I was mistaken, maybe it was a satire.  Then I was told she had been hawking these diet pills in magazines for a month or so.  As this sunk in, I was still totally unaware of the blow that would come next, you see, on top of selling diet pills and appetite suppressants, she also sells a triple detox and cleanse.  If you aren’t sure what a triple detox and cleanse is and how it helps in dieting, you are not alone.  Nobody does.  In fact the claims on the package are so vague and confusing, you aren’t entirely sure what the outcome will be.  The product claims that it will reduce belly bloat, reduce body waste buildup and support your colon and digestive system.  These claims mean nothing and have literally nothing to do with weightloss or fitness.

I confronted Jillian with my opinion on this matter and she tweeted me to say:

@URNotAFitPerson Read the ingredients & science behind products then comment. Cleanse is probiotics & herbs 4 liver & kidney support. No laxatives or fasting involved. Developed w/ 1 of best bariatrics doctors in the world named Arnold Astrup at Harvard

After figuring out that she didn’t know the correct name of the doctor who she claimed had developed this product, nor which school he was associated with, I was told by the real  Dr. Astrup from the University of Copenhagen that he did not participate in developing this cleanse at all.

This started me out on a long journey to get to the bottom of this issue, an act so apparently hypocrital for the tough trainer that she came to the attention of Deceiver.com.  You see, the problem with writing as many books as Jillian has is sometimes the things you write come back to bite you:

Diet pills and surgical weight loss options are two more examples of detrimental quick fixes. Diet products and procedures are simply gimmicks that target people’s apathy and hopelessness about their own health.

-From the “Dispelling Myths” section of  Winning by Losing, by Jillian Michaels

Even more disturbing then the apparent hypocrisy that the pills show, is how Jillian does not really appear to know who had developed her products?  This is confusing.  There was one more hint though.  In a tweet to a follower of both hers and mine, she gave the name of another doctor involved in the development of her cleanse, Dr. Nathalie Chevreau, a dietitian.

The journey led me to group #4 on this list, Basic Research, and you can follow it there, but before I move on, I want to address the real problem with the Jillian Michaels machine, #3 on the list Giancarlo Chersich.

Lesson:  In todays celebrity driven market, exposure and fame are valuable, very valuable.  By leveraging your name to sell products you do take a risk of watering down your good name and possibly turning it into a bad name, but if you don’t leverage your name, you may soon be forgotten.  To keep famous, celebrities need to stay in the news and a great way to do that is to market products.  It doesn’t hurt that this can make them a lot of money.  Exposure is power and good people will do not so good things to get that power.

3. Giancarlo Chersich and Empowered Media

Jillian partnered with Giancarlo Chersich (and seen with her in the picture above), a licensing agent and made him the CEO of her new company, Empowered Media LLC.  One of his past jobs includes being the Senior Manager of Licensing at Tommy Hilfiger, which in and of itself would make you believe that he is very good at what he does.  He is.  He is better than good.  Not only did he get Jillian Micheals a deal endorsing Nordic Trak, but he also got her a job as a Go Daddy girl, a cover and spread in Shape Magazine and her own line of shoes at K-Swiss.  This was just the beginning though.  If you search products for Jillian Michaels on Amazon you get pages of products.

There are weighted calf sleeves, dumbbells, kettle bells, forearm sleeves, aerobic steps, resistance cords, cross training kits, and crossbars and there are plenty of each of these items to choose from.  This is on top of the videos and books and video games.  We shouldn’t forget the videogames because Jillian Michaels Fitness Ultimatum 2009 was rated the least played video game on the Wii system.  It was awful.

You see the problem is a licensing agent uses a celebrities good name in trade to get money out of product sales.  This really is a just a scheme to get rich out of the public’s love of Jillian regardless of the quality of the products (Fitness Ultimatum 2009) or the apparent hypocrisy.

Lesson:  The entire corporate health industry is designed to separate you from your money and there are some very talented people doing exactly that.  Examine how you buy products and what you buy.  Make sure that if you are trusting a product it is because it is a good product, not because it is endorsed by someone you like.

4.  Basic Research

The company that appears to be behind the diet pills and cleanse that Jillian Michaels promotes, Basic Research LLC has manufactured many products and sold them in a way that caught the attention of the FTC.  These products included

  • Tummy Flattening Gel,
  • Cutting Gel,
  • Dermalin APg,
  • as well as 2 ephedrine products, Leptoprin and Anorex and
  • 1 fiber pill that is marketed to obese children: PediaLean!!

The FTC alleged the marketers lacked a reasonable basis in support of the claims, noting the sellers falsely stated clinical testing proved  claims for four of the challenged products and misrepresented their spokesperson as a medical doctor.

I can’t express to you how far a company has to go to run afoul of the FTC.  The commission only issues a complaint “when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated”.  You can see some of the claims of how far Basic Research has gone down this road.  You can read the FTC press release here and some additional claims found here.

“Dramatic, unsubstantiated weight and fat loss claims continue to tempt the overweight with new hope for a quick fix. It’s particularly disturbing, however, when marketers peddle such pills and potions for children without adequate substantiation,” according to Howard Beales, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.  on top of all of this, they developed and marketed a fat cream that was so egregious it led to congressman Rep. James Greenwood, R-Pa., to call the  Basic Research executives “scam artists”.  Yes, scam artists.

In 2006 this case was settled for $3 million and the understanding that the FTC requires tests, studies or evidence “based on the expertise of professionals in the relevant area” conducted and evaluated objectively by qualified individuals and yielding reliable results.  You would think that would be the last that the FTC had to do with Basic Research.  Not so.  In 2009 the FTC asked the Attorney General of the United States to take action against Basic Research for the lack of scientific backing to the claims of their products ‘Akavar 20/50’ and ‘Relacore’ and for misrepresenting clinical studies.

“The government alleges that these defendants made claims that their product would allow you to ‘eat all you want and still lose weight’ without a reasonable basis,” said Tony West, Assistant Attorney General for the Department of Justice’s Civil Division. “Claims like these are harmful to both the health and pocketbooks of those who use these supplements. Working with our partners at the Federal Trade Commission, we will continue to challenge unlawful advertising claims.”

All of this and a class action suit against them for the very same products.  All this would put them on the 2009 Dirty Dozen list, but why 2010?

2010 is the year for Basic Research and Jillian Michaels it seems.  Under another company name, Thincare International-Basic Research has many-they manufactured Jillian Michaels’ supplements.  It is possible that she had no idea which company she was dealing with.  After my initial research with Jillian Michaels-after finding Dr. Nathalie Chevreau it was quite easy to connect Jillian Michaels to Basic Research-the lawyers in the case contacted me for the information that I had on the connections between these companies.  It didn’t take them long to find Basic Research and within months, Basic Research were codefendants in 3 class action suits and back in the news.

Lesson:  The supplement business is huge and it is centred in Utah.  Working with politicians, including the governors, most notably Orin Hatch, specific laws were created to make it easier to market and sell supplements as food products.  The law is called the DSHEA, and it has been used to create a near lawless wild west of snake oil sales across the country.  This act has even allowed supplement products to be sold without any testing on the quality of the product to confirm that the ingredients within are even what they claim to be.  Until the laws are strengthened, only take supplements from companies that have independent testing of their products.  As well, do not believe anything that supplement companies say about their products, seek out independent medical advice.

5.  Heidi Diaz & the Kimkins Diet

The woman in the photo on the right is Heidi Diaz, the creator of the Kimkins diet, but  one the images is not like the others.  That is right, the picture of the very slim woman is not Heidi Diaz at all, but a woman from a Russian model website.  Heidi Diaz used false testimonials and false photographs (taken from a Russian model site) to claim that she had lost tremendous weight (198 pounds) and kept that weight off, all using a diet that she literally made up.  As well, she faked numerous testimonials on her site and used photographs of other people from the Russian model site for them.

After many of the people following her diet began to get sick, they hired a detective to find out that Heidi Diaz was not the person she was pretending to be.  On top of not having lost weight on her diet or it appears ever used her diet, she has no credentials and it appears she just made up this diet out of nowhere.  This diet included plans with sub 500 calorie per day meal plans.

They victims of this diet sued Heidi in a class action suit.  In her deposition she admitted to lying and falsifying claims for the diet.

After  3 years the lawsuit wrapped up this year and the court found in favour of the victims to the tune of 1.8 million dollars.  On top of this, the court added an unprecedented  $500,000 in punitive damages.  You can read the court transcript here.  On a closing note, Heidi changed her payment plan to ask for people to send her a cheque, as she only reported as income to the court her money earned from Paypal.  It would almost appear as though she is trying to find a way to earn money by circumventing the court freeze on her bank accounts.

Lesson:  Testimonials are literally useless as are before and after pictures.  I have said this repeatedly on this blog, but I cannot stress it enough.  Even if the person who runs the diet site isn’t lying (and in this case she clearly was), there are no shortage of ways to get unique remarkable weight loss testimonials for any diet, whether or not there is any chance of that diet working for the average person.  Testimonials are the most compelling reason for people choosing a diet, but unfortunately they are nearly useless in determining the quality of a diet.  Ignore testimonials completely when looking for health advice.

6.  Ab Circle Pro & Michael Casey

I never know who to get madder at, the actors and models who unethically sell crap products or the people who hire them to sell their crap.  I will start with the product here though and the president of the company that manufactures it, Michael Casey.  One thing to note though, as opposed to the Triple Detox and Cleanse above, the Ab Circle Pro isn’t entirely crap.  Sure, reports indicate that it is made poorly, but it will probably give a very mild workout to your obliques, which is better than nothing, right?  At least it would be if it didn’t come with the insane price of about $200!!!

You can get a better workout for your obliques with side plank dips.  True, if you are allergic to the floor, then you pretty much have to use the Ab Circle Pro, right?  Oh, wait, you mean there is a reasonably priced ab and oblique workout that fit people actually do and you can have in your home for under $40?!?!  Yes, the chin up bar and Ab Straps allow you to do hanging leg raises, an actual exercise used to achieve six pack abs. Mind you, for about $20 you can get a swiss ball and do crunches up off the floor like most people.  I have yet to find a fitness expert that did not recommend crunches by the way (including Jennifer Nicole Lee, the fitness model who sells the Ab Circle Pro, see #7 below).  The Ab Circle Pro isn’t useless, but it is about as close to useless as an exercise device can get for realistic weight loss, when used as directed.

According to Consumer Reports, the Ab Circle Pro has been found to be about as effective as a brisk walk, but according to the ads you are led to believe the following claims:

  • Aerobically burns fat in minutes a day.
  • Secret is that the Ab Circle Pro combines cardio and abs to burn fat faster.
  • Friction free track.
  • Uses the momentum of gravity.
  • You’ll firm and flatten your stomach in just weeks.
  • Takes just 3 minutes a day.
  • 3 minutes = 100 sit ups.

None of these claims are really true, at best they are extreme hyperbole.  Why in the world they would suggest you can get a cardio workout in 3 minutes is beyond me, or even how they could suggest you will get fit in 3 minutes a day.  Are they suggesting you can look like Jennifer Nicole Lee by doing 100 sit ups a day?!!?  They have honed their advertising pitch to make sure that they don’t out and out lie, but they come as close as possible.

You cannot get fit exercising 3 minutes a day, and that is doubly true when your workout is the equivalent of a brisk walk.  Why anyone would would believe the claims of a company that suggests that their large frisbee disc of a product is somehow friction free or that gravity (a force) actually has momentum is another mystery.

Buying massively overhyped exercise equipment is exactly how not to get fit.  Selling it is a great way to get rich though, as Fitness Brands knows.  After all, they are the ones who brought you all of the following products:

  • The Ab Roller Plus*
  • The Ab Sculptor
  • Ultra Toner
  • Instant Ads
  • Ab Shaper
  • Perfect Abs
  • The Ab Doer*
  • The Ab King Pro
  • The Urban Rebounder

What is probably the most disturbing part of this product is the role affiliate marketing plays in the selling of it.  What most consumers don’t know is that there is a new market force, the affiliate seller.   These people are very similar to the old water filter or Amway salespeople of old, but instead of recruiting their friends and family they act as shills.  The seller of the product gives anyone who makes an account a portion of the sales price of a product for bringing in a buyer.  This all seems quite simple and above board, but then you realize, affiliates can do what the companies can’t.  They can lie all they want, and they often do, to convince you that they got fit using that product (or whiter teeth or rid of that bald spot or whatever it is they sell).  In the case of the Ab Circle they make up to $70 for each Ab Circle buyer that purchases after going to the official website from their website.  That is a lot of money.  There are many people who make their living from these affiliate programs.  So many that there are websites out there to help affiliates find the most lucrative programs.  So each affiliate will set up at least one and some times dozens of testimonial websites describing how good the Ab Circle Pro (and whatever other product they shill for) is, an act, that if performed by the company itself would be vile, greedy and probably actionable.  Oh, it is amazing how sometimes cutting others in on your lucrative deal can make everything go better, which brings me to #7 on this list…

Lesson:  You can’t get fit in 5 minutes a day.  People will tell you what you want to hear, plain and simple and we all want to hear that getting fit is easy.  It is never easy, but it can be fun and become part of your life.  You need to find ways to make fitness work for you, plain and simple.  5 minutes is barely enough time for a warm up, not enough time for an exercise.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is doing you a disservice.

7. Jennifer Nicole Lee

Now I will deal with the model.  Quite honestly, Jennifer Nicole Lee is a self admitted ‘gym rat’.  She uses a speed rope for cardio (that is hard core).  She has fitness routines that are off the chart.  In fact, her actual workout routine before the Ab Circle Pro was on the market can be found here (in time lapse).  It includes power squats, power lunges, incredible rope work, swiss ball crunches.  It is a serious workout that produces a remarkably fit person.  She has sold around a dozen different fitness routines over the years and won the Miss Bikini USA title years before the Ab Circle Pro was invented, yet she stars in commercials that imply that the Ab Circle Pro is the workout she uses to get her incredible body.

I lost over 80 pounds and was just crowned Miss Bikini Diva, all thanks to the Ab Circle Pro, and why?  Because it was so easy I didn’t even know I was working out.

Since that time she has become the spokesmodel for BSN Supplements and  on top of hawking supplements in each of her webisodes showing how to get fit, she also tells you how to get a strong fit core (Get Up And Go Season 2 Episode 3).  Hint, it doesn’t include the Ab Circle Pro and can be done with nothing more than a swiss ball.

Lesson:  Eve hard working people can be tempted to imply things that they otherwise wouldn’t if it can lead to fame and fortune.  We all know this deep down, and yet we create the opportunity/difficult choice for our idols by buying the things they tell us to buy.  Stop taking endorsements for products by fit people, celebrities and professional athletes.  If you think you can trust them, you are setting yourself up to be disappointed.

8.  David Zinczenko (Men’s Health), Dan Wakeford(Life and Style Magazine), Women’s World Magazine  and Bauer Publishing.

The world of pop culture magazines is a vile, vacuous, hopeless mix of celebrity voyeurism and compulsive exaggerations.  There is almost nothing of value in these magazines and even less of value on the cover.  So much so that editors routinely make their magazine with 2 covers.  One for home delivery with the actual stories on it, the other for the newsstand with absurd claims.  From Men’s Health Magazine which routinely offers you easy and fast six-pack abs, an offer so absurd, offensive and clearly false that they should have been dragged into court years ago, to the over the top claims of popular diets shown routinely by Women’s World Magazine, to the cyclical Kardashian weight gain and celebrity diets by Life & Style Magazine, this group cares only about moving magazines.  2 of the 3 magazines are sold by Bauer Publishing, a group whose collection of magazines are reasons for global shame.

Women’s World Magazine deserves an extra helping of shame by the way.  After being a catalyst in the success of the Kimkinz diet (#5 above), they offered an apology for their extraordinary cover claims.  They say that your trust means everything to them, but they still advertised the Kimkinz diet, a diet based upon less than 500 calories a day as ‘better than gastric bypass’.  It is really hard to read those 2 thoughts in one sentence.  Again, all of this was in 2007, so why Women’s World Magazine in 2010?

Even after apologizing for what was clearly non-existent reporting work and extreme hyperbole, Women’s World Magazine has continued to report on diets with the same style, shouting out extraordinary successes as if they are routine and even guaranteed.  This year we had the ‘lose 11 pounds a week on Dr. Oz’s easy detox diet’, ‘0.85$ miracle breakfast will MELT OFF 40 LBS!’, and ‘THE JUICE THAT MELTS BELLY FAT-drink 2 glasses a day -and lose 9 lbs and 3″ in a week!’. These claims are crap.  Inside you will see some sensible diet advice coupled with one individual story of a person’s extreme weightloss.  This wouldn’t pass muster with the FTC in terms of diet claims, but because they are selling magazines, and indirectly selling the fad diet, they get away with it, and this isn’t even looking at the other insane claims they make on their covers nor the diet advice coupled with the pictures of cupcakes and desserts that seem to coexist, on the cover at least.

The editor of Men’s Health Magazine, David Zinczenko has made this list not because he keeps churning out magazines with the same or similar covers, but because he is now the Yahoo news health expert, handing out weekly eat this not that lists that are taken from his book series.  The claims behind the book series are absurd and the fact that he is treated as a health expert is even more shocking, given his claim to being a health expert is based upon the fact that he is an editor of a men’s magazine with Health in the title.  The entire Eat This Not That book series appears to be made up of lists of terrible choices with suggested substitutions of bad choices, along with claims of the pounds that you could lose if you made this switch. Eating bad foods will only produce weight loss if you actually are one of the less than 1% of Americans who eat the worst choice on every food menu at least 3 times a week.  The claims of weightloss are based upon simple math and ignore the increase in BMR that overweight people have.   The lists have become a sort of food porn and invariably read ‘The 10 worst (shakes, burgers, sundaes, you name it) in America’.

Dan Wakeford makes the list because of some unholy alliance between Life & Style magazine and the Kardashian family.  In cover after cover we are offered Kim and the other sister’s quick weightloss diet, each with claims of how we can lose up to 10 pounds following girls who are actually famous for nothing.  What is worse is clearly Kim Kardashian is a beautiful young woman and has always been this way.  She is one of the those gifted with fantastic genes and a low bodyweight.  She is young.  These things generally result in being thin.  These are the things that so many of us who are trying to get fit don’t have.  Life & Style magazine is exploiting these qualities and the strange obsession that the public has over this family to make money.  In turn, they give us claims that Kim or her sister(s) put on 1o pounds and lost it again on another even better diet.  The fact that this woman appears to yo-yo so much would be a warning to anyone alive to avoid those diets by the way.  By the way, I have a sneaking suspicion that we will see more of this yo-yo dieting in 2011.

Lesson:  Men’s Health isn’t about health and it appears that they care more about selling magazines than the content of those magazines.  Woman’s World Magazine appears to take advantage of women who want to get healthy and lose weight by putting absurd and unlikely claims on their cover.  They do this to sell magazines, even if they are exploiting the trust of women to do this.  Life & Style magazine is a vacuous rag that is riding on some sick wave of public obsession with Kim Kardashian’s body and they will say whatever they can just to put Kim on the cover, ideally in a bikini.  This is what we cut trees down to create.  This is what we fill our free time and our free space in our heads with.  This is sad.  By the way, it is clear that nobody is sorry, they just want to keep selling absurd diet claims.

9.  Sensa and Dr. Alan Hirsch

I first came across Sensa in May of 2010, but I was reminded of the questionable marketing practices of this product recently when I was listening to talk radio while driving through Portland Oregon (I will share the irresponsible new tactic at the end of this).  The buzz for Sensa and the doctor behind it all seemed very exciting at first.  Dr. Alan Hirsch is a nationally recognized expert on the science of smell, having written more than 180 articles on the pyschological power of smell, taste and how these senses affect human behavoir.  In his research he has claimed to find some ingredients, that when sprinkled on foods, increases the eaters sense of satiety.  All of these sounds very exciting until you look a little deeper.

The Sensa program is marketed behind what is described as “one of the largest studies of a non-prescription weight-loss system.”  The problem comes when the results of the study are shared, but no effort to share the methods or the actual study itself.  From a nationally recognized expert, this is totally unacceptable, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.  The marketing of Sensa has all of the hallmarks of common scams.  From the website you get:

  • Sexy spokesmodel who claims to have taken the product-Dayna Devon.
  • Useless guarantee
  • Autobilling
  • Claims of free† or free* or free(1)
  • Over the top success stories
  • Logos of corporations and media companies that have run stories (whether they are positive or not)
  • Missing scientific studies

The real problem is that we have no idea if Sensa works at all, and the behaviour of the company only makes it appear doubtful.  All of this from an actual doctor and researcher.  It gets worse when you search for Sensa on the internet and find it through the ‘How Life Works‘, a website that appears to report in an unbiased manner on common interest stories.  The problem is, that isn’t what the website is at all.  According to the website:

How Life Works is a general interest website containing articles about a wide variety of subjects. Some of these articles are sponsored by advertisers and HowLifeWorks.com may receive monetary compensation from the 3rd parties mentioned in this article to the extent that readers click through to such 3rd parties’ respective web sites or complete transactions on these 3rd party web sites.

So how does this 3rd party advertising work.  According to ASN:

  • ASN’s Advertorial offers advertisers a vast new pool of highly qualified prospects. This traffic generally converts at considerably higher rates than search and display advertising.
  • ASN’s staff of editorial/copy writers produces short informative reference articles about the client’s product or service. These articles are published on heavily trafficked information and reference sites, attracting tens of thousands of readers daily.
  • The client’s offer is explained in the article and the reader has the opportunity to click through to the clients landing page. The client only pays for these clicks.
  • Advertorial traffic converts particularly well when the advertisers offer requires consultive selling.
  • This 2-click model (the prospect clicks to the article, and again to the advertiser’s landing page) results in extremely strong conversion rates. When a prospect clicks to the advertisers landing page they have already selected the article, read the article’s 3rd party endorsement of the advertisers offer, and clicked again to the advertisers landing page.

Notice how they loosely use the phrase 3rd party endorsement.  That is sickening.  I can’t imagine that people are actually hiding behind supposed 3rd party websites that are in fact, paid for by themselves.  Speaking of hiding behind 3rd party websites that are in fact paid for by themselves, this brings us to #10, but first…

By the way, the radio ad I spoke of earlier said that Sensa was conducting a trial in the Portland area and they were looking for people to participate.  As the ad went on it became clear that they were looking for people to pay for the trial that they advertise above, not be part of a scientific trial as they appeared to be asking!  That was low, ingenious, but low!

Lesson:  This lesson comes up time and again in this list, but the fact is, getting rich is a pretty strong motivator for many people.  Because of this, you really can’t trust anyone based on their position or credentials.  At the end of the day, do your research and make sure that there are actually legitimate (available) studies behind any product.  As well, avoid any product that is marketed in a questionable way.  That includes all of the methods that the products on this list are marketed by.

10.  Rick Berman & the Center for Consumer Freedom

Apparently Rick Berman has been around a long time and I should have heard of this organization before, but it wasn’t until I got involved in the battle to ban toys in Happy Meals that they came across my radar.  Apparently I wasn’t the only one who noticed them this year.  My favourite comedy website picked up on them too (the whole article is well worth reading Cracked.com)

Rick Berman gets paid money to set up websites that try to convince the public that high fructose corn syrup isn’t bad for you, junk food isn’t bad for you, drinking soda doesn’t lead to obesity, and mercury in fish is fine.  In fact, there whole stance is that we are creating a government led nanny state who is actively taking away our rights as consumers to choose what we want to eat and drink.  This is a very interesting argument and would bear hearing out, from someone without a vested interest in misleading you.

What Rick Berman doesn’t tell you is that he is paid by the restaurant and fast food industry to set up these websites and make these seemingly disconnected arguments (what does HFCS have to do with mercury in food, or PETA?).  Rick prefers to say that he sets up the websites and then solicits donations from like minded people, but either way, what appears to be a site (or series of websites) interested in consumer freedom is actually paid large sums of money to argue for corporate freedom.  If you think the two are the same, think again.

Rick Berman could be one of the smartest guys out there, or it could be he just has balls of steel to pull this off, but I didn’t believe this could exist until I read the whole scam from multiple sources.   Naomi Seligman, former deputy director for the Center for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, likes to phrase this a little differently, “He is scum extraordinaire. He’s scary brilliant”.

So, Here is how it works (according to indepdendent journalist Ian T. Shearn:

Berman identifies issues that threaten the profit margins of the food and beverage industries—many of them clients—and establishes a tax-exempt public charity to raise money. In most cases, he appoints himself as executive director and appoints a board, often with ties to the food and beverage industries.  The charity established, he raises millions of dollars each year and then hires himself and his for-profit PR firm to do research, run ad campaigns and start websites.  His annual management fees run in the millions.

For example: Berman created a 501(c)(3) charity, the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) in 2002 to “educate the public on food and beverage issues.”  Berman generated more than $20 million in contributions to CCF through 2008 (he has yet to file his 2009 tax documents). Nearly half of that—more than $9 million—was paid to Berman and Co., of which Berman is the president and sole owner, or to Berman directly, in management fees and expenses, according to an analysis of his IRS tax returns.

I don’t know if you can understand the circular genius of this whole operation at first pass.  Rick Berman solicits donations from the food, restaurant, and tobacco industries.  “Berman’s current client list is a virtual who’s who in the chain restaurant industry,” one Phillip Morris executive wrote to another in a 1995 memo.  The donations that he solicits are tax deductible!  What is even more impressive is that a 501(c)(3) charity does not need to reveal its donor list so not only do they get a tax deduction on their donation, but they also get anonymity!   According to the Washington Post:

Food industry officials who spoke only on the condition that they not be identified by name or by where they work said that by keeping the sponsors anonymous, Berman’s group can be more vociferous, provocative and irreverent in its criticisms than a trade association. Berman’s “stuff is factual, but everyone chooses the facts they represent,” one executive said.

Berman agrees that his group can be edgier. “There’s no doubt about that. Most trade associations try to insulate individual companies and brand names from cutting-edge rhetoric.”

All of this would be bad enough-letting corporations make tax deductible, anonymous payments for PR campaigns-but the best twist is that Berman hires himself, a for-profit PR firm to ‘educate’ the public.  This is an incredibly elaborate scam to get paid to do underground PR for restaurants on issues they want to support but don’t want to appear to be getting their hands dirty.  All the while, this is occurring under the guise of  ‘consumer freedom’, when in fact it is just another layer of consumer misinformation and an attempt to prevent consumers from freely asking the government to regulate corporate activity.  The biggest irony of all is you, we tax payers are actually paying for the corporations to screw us because this business enterprise is actually run under the guise of a charity!  Wow.

If I had the list of supporters I would add them all to this list by the way.  Good business or not, if you believe that feed lots are ethical or that mercury in fish isn’t all that bad, at least have the decency to stand up and make that argument without hiring a shill to do it for you.  The organization should be called the Center for Corporate Freedom by the way.

Lesson:  Significant loopholes in the government tax acts will allow for massive amounts of misinformation and political posturing at the cost of our health.  Meanwhile there are no tax ‘loopholes’ for you.  In fact, in the US, there are no tax deductions for exercise costs, even though obesity costs are estimated to be as high as $147 billion a year in the US (By the way Rick Berman would say that the number of $147 billion is absurdly high, and on this I would probably agree with him).

11.  Central Coast Nutraceuticals and Graham Gibson.

With a name like that, you know they are destined to end up on this list.  Nutraceuticals?!!? Get serious.  So what did Central Coast Nutraceuticals do to end up here.  They sold Acai Berry.  Acai Berry is one of the great scams of 2010, the newest miracle supplement on the block.  Acai Berry is actually a palm fruit, not a berry at all.  According to Wikipedia:

Marketers of these products make unfounded claims that açaí and its antioxidant qualities provide a variety of health benefits, none of which has scientific confirmation to date. False claims include reversal of diabetes and other chronic illnesses, as well as expanding size of the penis and increasing men’s sexual virility and sexual attractiveness to women. As of June 2010, there are no scientifically controlled studies backing up any of these claims. According to ABC News correspondent Susan Donaldson, these products have not been evaluated (in the United States) by the FDA, and their efficacy is questionable. Specifically, there is no scientific evidence that açaí consumption affects body weight or could promote weight loss.

But why Central Coast Nutraceuticals, after all, the internet is full of companies claiming that acai berry promotes weight loss.  Well, Central Coast Nutraceuticals was actually just using these products as a chance to get your credit card numbers and charge you for things that you didn’t order:

“It markets these products by telling consumers if they enter their credit card information on the internet to pay for a modest shipping and handling fee, the consumers will get free samples,” said David Vladeck, the director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection.

“But the products don’t work, and the consumers soon find out that they have been charged the full price for what was supposed to be a free trial offer.”

The company then begins adding recurring monthly charges for products they didn’t order.

“Consumers then face months of aggravation trying to remove the unauthorized charges from their accounts and trying to obtain refunds from CCN,” Vladeck said.

“Many even decided they had no choice but to cancel their credit cards or close their bank accounts to avoid further CCN charges. Even then, consumers often get nasty collection letters and emails from CCN threatening to ruin their credit if they didn’t pay up.”

After a finding from the State of Arizona in 2009 against CCN to the tune of $1.375 million dollars, this year, the FTC filed a $100 Million FTC Injunction against them.  According to CBC.com:

An American nutraceutical company has been shut down by the Federal Trade Commission after three years of running a massive scam that bilked one million consumers out of more than $100 million.

This scam had been ongoing for over 3 years and has generated more than 2,800 complaints with law enforcement agencies and the Better Business Bureau, not to mention 279 complaints on www.ripoffreport.com.   How this scam lasted 3 years and why Visa processed all of these orders given the number of complaints is beyond me, but a little research finds the same scam techniques that show up over and over.  A quick internet search finds that Central Coast Nutraceuticals is part of an affiliate network.  The shocking thing is that they will pay you $20 for each free trial offer you get someone to sign up for?!?!  What is worse, they will pay you %5 downline, which suggests an ongoing payment relationship.  As well, they suggest that the average order is $75 or more!  Apparently people get scammed for $75 before they cancel their credit card.

Gibson apparently wanted to go on the record in an interview with Pace Lattin:

According to Gibson, he had already taken steps to change his business and was on the front line of making changes to the industry. He had already settled with the Arizona State Attorney General a year earlier and for almost two years had changed his business model, had taken steps to be fully compliant and even hired FTC experts to advise him on what was legal, legit and compliant.

So his defence is that not only did he stop doing illegal activities after 2 years of scamming, but now he has hired experts so that he can continue to operate at the cutting edge of the law.  AFter all, it is easy to not break the law, just sell a better product fairly, with full disclosure.  But this wasn’t what he had in mind at all.  Make no mistake he will be back doing this again, but with a more refined pitch, one that probably doesn’t cross any legal lines.  At least he clearly feels bad about what he did, after all, according to Lattin, “It was very clear that while he accepts some of the responsibility, he changed his practices 18 months ago but even then many of the issues came from his advertising partners. Mr. Gibson even went as far to call himself a victim of the scummy practices of affiliate marketing companies and their partners.”  He is a victim?!!?

Lesson:  Out and out, hardcore fraud is still very active in the US and there really isn’t a lot the government can do, or will do about it, so you need to protect yourself.  NEVER, EVER produce a credit card for a product that offers a free trial.  You may think that the credit card company or the government will protect you, but they won’t.  They may continue to bill your credit card under different company names for years and you will have to pay the bill.  Your best move is to use a Visa giftcard for any purchase from an online supplier you are unaware of or haven’t dealt with before.  The government will have to act quickly by the way, a lot quicker than it did in this case if it is going to prevent activities like these from dampening internet commerce.

12.  Donald Trump

I have to be honest here.  When I started this list I had no idea that Donald Trump would be on it.  I am sure that there are plenty of ‘worst of’ lists that Donald Trump would qualify for, but I had no idea that he would qualify for a diet and fitness list.  Then I discovered the Trump Network.  What is the Trump Network.  According to the website:

It’s an opportunity. An opportunity for you. And an opportunity to help rebuild a country founded on that very premise. It’s a chance to turn a land overwhelmed by stress and ill health to one of strong bodies, bright minds, and free spirits. A chance for you to promote wellness and entrepreneurialism. Even more, a better way of life. This is far more than a financial opportunity. This is a chance to live and promote something you can believe in.

According to others, the Trump Network is the latest entry in the much beleaguered and quite often maligned multi-level marketing industry.  According to False Profits Blog:

Now, the MLM world is electrified by Trump’s launching of his own MLM company. The MLM blogosphere pulses with pride. They point to Trump as proof of their system’s legitimacy. If Donald Trump says its legit, surely it must be! Right?
Sadly for the believers, no. In fact, Trump’s involvement is only more obvious evidence — if consumer loss rates of 99% need any more — of just how bogus recruitment-MLMs are as a “business model.” To those not caught up in MLM’s delusions and entrapments, Trump’s association with MLM is a red flag of flim-flam. A guy known for extravagant consumption, an overbearing braggart, a figment of PR spin, a regular on the covers of celebrity scandal magazines, a promoter of professional wrestling, a bankrupt executive in the gambling industry, a schemer notorious for skipping out on debts, a man famous for win-lose “deals.” This is the spokesman for a business based on person-to-person selling to friends and relatives?

Multi Level Marketing is not illegal in the United States according to a 1979 ruling by the FTC, but it has been widely criticized.  According to Wikipedia:

MLM companies have been a frequent subject of criticism as well as the target of lawsuits. Criticism has focused on their similarity to illegal pyramid schemes, price-fixing of products, high initial start-up costs, emphasis on recruitment of lower-tiered salespeople over actual sales, encouraging if not requiring salespeople to purchase and use the company’s products, potential exploitation of personal relationships which are used as new sales and recruiting targets, complex and sometimes exaggerated compensation schemes, and cult-like techniques which some groups use to enhance their members’ enthusiasm and devotion.

I personally hate MLM.  They always seem to me to be a pyramid scheme looking for a product.  Everyone who I ever met who got involved with MLM ended up losing money and sadly a lot of dignity.  So, what is the product that the Trump Network is selling?

  • PrivaTest Custom Essentials – Nutritional Supplements
  • Silhouette Solution – Snack Foods
  • Quick Sticks – Botanical infusion supplements?!?!
  • Snazzle Snaxxs – More Snack Foods
  • Bioce – Cosmeceuticals – Skin Care Products (you have to know with a name like that I hate them already)

What you need to know right away is these are products that have been available in the marketplace for awhile and have met with limited or no success.  The entire MLM was originally called the Ideal Health Network before Trump put his name to it and was around for over ten years.

Here is what Quackwatch has to say about Privatest.

Here is what Janet Helm of Nutrition Unplugged had to say about Snazzle Stix.

A quick look at what Silhouette Solutions is makes me shake my head.  I cannot imagine a diet I would recommend less and a starter kit will cost you $1325!?!?!

A quick look at these products makes me wonder what in the hell Donald Trump saw with this network in the first place.  I could have created and packaged up a better family of products in one evening with nothing more than a napkin, a pencil and a glass of scotch.  I have never had much love for Trump to start with, but his foray into MLM and these poorly chosen health products make me wonder just how greedy this man is.  Donald Trump makes the fictional antagonist of  the movie Wall Street, Gordon Gecko, look like Mother Teresa.

Lesson:  Greed isn’t good, at least not for most of the people involved in MLM.  According to Business Students Focus on Ethics: “In the USA, the average annual income from MLM for 90% MLM members is no more than US $5,000, which is far from being a sufficient means of making a living (San Lian Life Weekly 1998)”.  In fact, according to Wikipedia: The vast majority of MLM’s are recruiting MLM’s, in which participants must recruit aggressively to profit. Based on available data from the companies themselves, the loss rate for recruiting MLM’s is approximately 99.9%; i.e., 99.9% of participants lose money after subtracting all expenses, including purchases from the company.” In part, this is because encouraging recruits to further “recruit people to compete with [them]” leads to “market saturation.”  Add to this the humiliation of having to turn your friends into sales opportunities and the fact that reviews of the products for sale are not good, and if the lesson isn’t clear to you already… well, I don’t know what to say.

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