Friday 28 September 2007

Lose money, not weight

Last week I got all hot under the collar as a result of an advertisement in the Advertiser that offered a ludicrous herbal remedy that promised to help us “Lose weight fast”. The advert suggested that if you swallowed their ridiculous concoction it was possible to lose 30kg in 10 weeks.

This is just untrue. It’s impossible for any human being to achieve that sort of weight loss without either severing a limb or two or dying in the process. Surely everyone knows that the only healthy way to lose weight is to stop eating rubbish and to take some exercise? Yes, it would be convenient if there was some miracle cure, some pill you could swallow that would just dissolve fat, strengthen your heart and make you incredibly attractive to whichever sex you prefer but sorry, it doesn’t exist.

So there I was last week, getting all cross at this rubbish being advertised, writing my angry rant and sending it off to Mmegi. What happened? Finally feeling good that I’d honoured my newspaper obligations for another week I took a look at the DStv guide to see what delights were on the TV that afternoon. Unfortunately it was all programs I had either seen already, had no interest in or thought insulted me. Big Brother held no appeal, nor did the various channels selling American religion. Incidentally why is it that American evangelists seem obsessed with having the nastiest suits and stage sets that are in the worst possible taste? Can anyone actually watch them without revulsion?

Anyway, after writing an article about an advertisement for health products that was lies from beginning to end what do I find? Another advertisement, this one taking up a whole page of the DStv magazine, entitled “The express diet for the impatient”. “Cider vinegar capsules, the natural fat busters. 6kilos in 10 days.”

This advertisement, which must have cost a small fortune, suggests that cider vinegar capsules are the answer to all our weight loss challenges. If you believe this advert these cider vinegar capsules can “open up fat deposits on the stomach, hips and legs and buttocks… ensure that the new fat, destined for the fat cells, is diverted to the muscles and combusted.”

Later the advert makes the truly astonishing claim that “You can also eat as much as you like. Combined correctly, even 4000 calories a day could make you slimmer, rather than fatter”.

Just like last week it’s really difficult to express my outrage at this rubbish using language Mmegi wouldn’t censor. Let me try.

This simply isn’t true. This is all spectacular nonsense. This is all, every last word of it, every sentence, every paragraph based on a lie. The product they are selling will not work. There is no miracle way of losing weight. Cider vinegar capsules do NOT allow you to eat yourself silly and still lose weight. No, no and no again.

Like I wrote last week I’m not a doctor, a physiologist, a nutritionist or a dietician. But I know that there is no miracle way to lose weight. Anyone who tells you that such a thing exists is either confused, badly informed or a liar. Anyone who tries to SELL you a way of doing it is a liar, a cheat and a scoundrel.

So many things surprise me about this advertisement. Firstly that whoever placed it clearly expects to make a huge amount of money from this silly stuff. Placing the advert will have cost them a fortune and they’re not stupid, they expect to make more than the cost of the advert in profit from selling their useless product.

Secondly you almost always see in these advertisements a little box hidden away in a corner that says something like “this only works if used in conjunction with a calorie-controlled diet”. This is the usual disclaimer the advertisers feel obliged to make in order to remain in the real world and to avoid prosecution for telling lies.

However this ad doesn’t have any disclaimer. They are really making extraordinary claims but as the great scientist and communicator Carl Sagan once said “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”.

The DStv magazine, like most DStv products, is clearly designed for our South African cousins rather than for us. However my understanding is that South Africa has consumer protection legislation just like ours. You simply can’t get away with saying that you have a miracle cure for something unless you really do have something that actually works.

However I’m in Botswana. Section 15 (1) (c) of our wonderful Consumer Protection Regulations state clearly that a supplier fails to meet minimum standards if:

“the supplier promises outcomes where those outcomes have no safe scientific, medical or performance basis”

Well, I did some very quick research and could find absolutely no published evidence that even hints that cider vinegar does anything therapeutic. No real findings based on those two key elements of real scientific research: the double-blind controlled experiment and peer review. As far as I can establish cider vinegar can’t do anything other than make nice salad dressings.

Finally, what are DStv in SA doing accepting advertisements from people trying to sell something that is contrary to our consumer protection laws? Would they accept advertisements offering to sell stolen cars? So why advertise something that is a blatant rip-off? I think we should expect better.

This week’s stars!

  • Ronald at Sheet Street for being incredibly friendly.
  • Lemogang and Phodiso from Aluminium 2000 for being wonderful, cheerful and kind and for working through a lunch break to help a customer.

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