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CSPI examined the nation's largest weight-loss programs, including Nutri/System and Jenny Craig. CSPI found that some programs require clients to purchase exorbitantly priced foods, others distort the cost of mandatory fees, and none routinely measures and discloses its long-term effectiveness.
"Consumers spend almost $2 billion each year at commercial weight-loss centers with little idea of how much a typical program really costs and how much weight they can reasonably expect to lose and keep off," stated Leila Farzan, CSPI senior staff attorney. "Without information on price and efficacy, choosing a weight-loss program is pure guesswork," she added.
The petition asked the FTC to require commercial weight-loss programs to provide written information to all potential customers concerning the total cost and duration of the program, the effectiveness of the program, the qualifications of the staff, and any potential health risks.
"The recent removal of the widely-used diet drugs fenfluramine and dexfenfluramine from the market illustrates both the enormous demand for weight-loss products and the dangers that can be implicit in this industry," said Congresswoman Louise M. Slaughter, who is working to help resolve some of these issues.
"Until weight-loss centers tell people what they really charge, and collect and disclose data about their effectiveness, people will continue shelling out good money on a wish and a prayer instead of on realistic expectations," Farzan stated. "If the conference does not lead to voluntary disclosure by the industry, we will urge Congress and the FTC to take action," she added.
The FTC has invited representatives from consumer groups, the scientific community, government, and the commercial weight-loss industry to participate in the conference. However, two of the largest commercial programs, Jenny Craig and Nutri/System, will not attend.
The conference is co-sponsored by the American Society of Clinical Nutrition, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
CSPI is a health-advocacy organization that campaigned successfully for mandatory nutrition labeling and restrictions on health claims for food products. CSPI is also well-known for its studies of the fat content of movie-theater popcorn and restaurant foods. It is funded largely by the one million subscribers to its Nutrition Action Healthletter.