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Consumers using supplements for weight loss, despite safety and effectiveness issues, survey shows

ScalefootSince it’s early in the New Year, many Americans are making New Year’s resolutions and starting a new diet or exercise program.

But, a new survey from Consumer Reports finds that as many as one in four consumers try to shortcut the process with the use of weight-loss supplements.

The survey shows consumer confusion about the safety and effectiveness of these products with 20 percent of respondents saying they thought that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration tests and guarantees the safety and effectiveness of supplements. However, the FDA regulates supplements like foods is regulated – they’re generally considered safe unless shown not to be.

The Consumer Reports National Research Center surveyed nearly 3,000 Americans about weight-loss supplements.  The key findings include:
  • More than one-quarter of supplement users in the survey said they thought the products were safe and would help them drop more pounds than other weight loss methods. But, unlike prescription and over-the-counter drugs, supplements don’t have to be proven effective and safe before they hit store shelves.
  • Many supplement users are unaware of their risks. One-quarter of Americans believe the products have fewer side effects than most over-the-counter or prescription medications, and nearly 20 percent believed the pills are safer than prescription drugs because they’re “natural.” However, diet pills can contain banned drugs. A recent Boston study looked at 27 supplements that had been recalled by the FDA but were still on the market. Two thirds of those sold for weight loss contained banned ingredients.
  • Side effects are common. About half of the people in the survey, who used supplements, said they experienced at least one side effect including a rapid heart rate, jitteriness, digestive problems such constipation or diarrhea, dry mouth, or another side effect.
  • Supplements aren’t effective for most people. A third of those who took supplements didn’t lose any weight. Another third lost some weight, but only 9 percent of all supplement users surveyed said they lost all the weight they hoped to lose and kept it off. Most supplement users in our survey, 74 percent, had been taking a supplement between three weeks to 11 months. It’s possible the supplement had little to do with weight loss. Exercise and diet may have been the main reason, and 85 percent of people who said they lost weight while taking a supplement were also following a diet or exercise program.

In addition to the survey on weight-loss supplements, which can be found online at www.ConsumerReports.org, the February issue of Consumer Reports magazine features ratings of treadmills and ellipticals. Its review found that many have added features that make them almost as good as having a personal trainer. The magazine also can be found at libraries and newsstands.

Many of the models allow users to individualize their workouts, making the best machines more motivating to their users, Consumer Reports said. Sixty-four percent of those who exercise regularly choose to do so at home, according to market research firm Mintel.

Research shows the key to success to weight loss is finding a diet and exercise regime people can stick with. As part of the exercise equipment ratings, Consumer Reports evaluated equipment costs, ergonomics, construction, ease of use, exercise range, and user safety as well as the latest high-tech tools to achieve fitness goals.

Copyright 2015, Rita R. Robison, Consumer Specialist

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