Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why We Need to Regulate the Weight Loss Industry

Wow, the editorial sure made a splash.

Of course editorials are brief and points always need to be limited so I just wanted to take a few moments and flesh this out some more.

Plainly put we need to protect consumers from weight management fraud, but where weight management differs from other areas is that the problems are more real and the people, more vulnerable. No one would care if you bought a shammy from Vince from Sham-Wow and it didn't work - $19.99 (or whatever it is) and no harm done. Here there's harm.

Obesity and overweight contribute dramatically to morbidity, mortality, reduced quality of life, social stigma and bias and both direct and indirect health care expenditures. Media, governments, physicians all hammer home the notion that weight has major risk and it would be healthy to lose it. Of course by not telling people where to go, consumers may find themselves in programs or buying products that they purchased due to overtly fraudulent or misleading claims.

The harm is not only in consumers being swindled into non-evidence based and likely non-sustainable approaches, not just to their pocket books that in many cases will end up much, much lighter, the harm is that those same individuals who are clearly in a state of change involving readiness, likely won't be at that same state once they've failed a program that itself was a failure - they'll blame themselves and be less likely to trust or seek out further help.

The call to action in the Journal is simple and it's a no brainer really - if you're going to make a claim about a product, pill or potion to treat obesity, if you can't back up your claim with evidence you shouldn't be allowed to make it.

With allied health professionals I'll go one step further. While Vince from Sham-Wow might be able to get away with outlandish claims, allied health professionals are not, or at least should not be able to. Physicians, dietitians, chiropractors etc., are all governed by the Heath Care Act and as such we are not allowed to make claims that are fraudulent or misrepresent the evidence base. Consequently I'll throw down my gauntlet to the Colleges of various health care professionals and state that it is their immediate and direct responsibility to protect the public from the myriad of health professionals currently sullying the good names of their respective Colleges and preying on the public that in too many cases trusts them too much.

Unfortunately doctors too can be unscrupulous.