Difficult Health Problems. Part 2

Dangers of health fraud

Fraudulent products hurt the fitness industry when they discourage people from becoming physically active, and when they encourage people to rely on ineffective products to solve problems. These products are harmful in other ways as well.

First of all, they may actually cause harm. For example, most readers are probably aware that supplements containing ephedra (common in “natural” weight control products) have led to a number of deaths. Second, even if the product does not cause harm, it may prevent consumers from pursuing effective therapy for a serious health problem, such as heart disease or cancer.

Weight loss products that lead to quick weight loss often cause dehydration and other health problems. None appear to be effective for more than a few weeks. Repeated cycles of weight loss and weight gain may have negative health effects. They also have many harmful psychological effects. People blame themselves (by thinking theylack will power, for example) rather than the products for their failure. Low self-esteem can hinder attempts to become more active and to eat well, setting people
up for more weight gain and a lower likelihood of success in future weightcontrol attempts.

Why do some products seem to work?

Weight control products often seem to work,initially, for several reasons. Sometimes they cause dehydration, which is simply the loss of water weight, not fat. Sometimes they do suppress appetite, but this effect is not long lasting, and such products can have harmful side-effects. Fraudulent products often work because the user changes eating and/or exercise habits. Many products contain instructions to use the product in conjunction with a low-calorie diet; it is the diet, rather than the product, that leads to weight loss.

The power of belief is strong; it is known as the placebo effect. People who believe in a product often experience its expected benefits — such as appetite suppression or increased energy levels — even if the product is worthless. People’s beliefs may alter their perceptions, and even have physiological effects.

Scientists understand that testimonials regarding product effectiveness are suspect for these reasons. Yet most fraudulent products rely on testimonials to make a sale. Your clients may also rely on them as proof of a product’s worth. It can be difficult to question your client’s credibility (such as when they say, “It worked for me!”), but fitness professionals can often find an opportunity to help clients understand the empty promises and health hazards of fraudulent products. You exemplify professionalism when you help educate clients about health fraud, and help them see that the only thing “quick and easy” about these products is the money made by the seller.

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