Friday 27 July 2007

Fitness aids that aren't fit

We had an email last week from a good guy called Isaac warning us about something he’d seen. Apparently you can go to various stores and buy a device called the Ab Energizer. This is a belt that you put on that sends electrical impulses into your stomach and promises a range of truly remarkable results as a consequence.

The advertising for the AB Energizer says:

“No pain! No work! No sit-ups! The Ab Energizer is the first multi-electronic exercise belt. Simply wrap the Ab Energizer belt around your body and with the press of a button you're exercising.”

Apparently if you use this thing you will lose inches from your waistline and you will reduce your body fat. It will help you develop the most amazing abdominal muscles. You will, no doubt, become much more attractive and will be irresistible to the opposite sex. Of course, all of this will happen without you undertaking any actual exercise.

You begin to see some of the problems here?

This is just another example of the nonsense we face these days in Botswana. Ridiculous claims are made about something, whether it’s a device for losing weight, a herbal cure for our various ailments or some ludicrous mental health programme from a bunch like the Scientologists.

I get the sense sometimes that international companies marketing worthless products like the AB Energizer think they can get away with things in places like Botswana that they wouldn’t dare to try elsewhere. There is some evidence for this. Isaac suggested that we look at the following web site:

This is a report from the Federal Trade Commission, the body in the USA that looks after the interests of Consumers, amongst other things. After investigating the miraculous properties of the Ab Energizer they decided a number of things.

Firstly two judgments against the distributors of the Ab Energizer totalling over $80 million, which they based on number of units the companies sold. However, tragically this isn’t actually going to be paid because the companies that sold them don’t have any money.

Then the companies have been forced to promise never again to lie about the alleged benefits of the device, and better still, that they mustn’t ever make promise about any similar device. They can’t start selling another similar device in the next store and hope to get away with it.

Then it gets even better. The order prohibits “the defendants from making unsubstantiated claims regarding the safety or efficacy of any product, service or program, and from misrepresenting test or research results for any product, service, or program.”

The report goes on and on, basically forbidding the various directors of the companies in question from ever marketing any product that promises weight loss or fitness improvement. It’s an utterly comprehensive judgment and I think it’s fantastic.


This is a judgment in the USA. Not here. It has no impact on us, other than perhaps to give us a clue that elsewhere in the world there’s been an investigation into the claims made and some serious people with authority and legal teeth have decided that it’s all lies and that something should be done about it.

However, when you look closely at the report you see something even more worrying. This ruling was made in April 2005, more than two years ago. Two years after the American distributors were told to stop marketing the device we are still exposed to it. I did a quick internet search and found a whole series of outlets offering it for sale.

Remember, this is a device that does not work, a device that in many cases actually burned the people using it and did I mention that it simply doesn’t work?

Why do we put up with this? Is it blissful naiveté? Are we simply unaware of these things? Are we actually sometimes unwilling to face the truth?

There IS a desire in all of us sometimes to deny what we really all know. There are no easy solutions to complex problems. It’s simply not possible to buy a device that you strap on that turns you into a body builder. It’s simply not possible to buy a herbal remedy that will boost your immune system and make you super-healthy. It’s simply not possible for a charlatan preacher to help you achieve prosperity, happiness and salvation, particularly if he demands your money.

On that last point let me repeat the official Consumer Watchdog rule about preachers. “Never trust a preacher who drives a better car than you.”

Back to the Ab Energizer. The good news is that we DO have some protection. Section 15 (1) of the Consumer Protection regulations states that a supplier fails to meet the minimum standards of performance if they quote “scientific or technical data in support of a claim unless the data can be readily substantiated” or if they promise “outcomes where those outcomes have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis”.

So if anyone out there has fallen victim to the Ab Energizer or any other unscientific claptrap get in contact and we’d be delighted to help you write the letter of complaint to the Consumer Protection Unit. Let’s see if they can be as forceful as our American cousins!

This week’s stars!
  • Our friend Isaac for being a good neighbour to us all and alerting us to this device.

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