Health

NOT MERELY Are Patients Being Swindled

50 billion North American weight-loss industry includes a morass of fantastical statements of products and programs guaranteeing quick, easy, long-lasting results.1 With all this wealth of magical weight-loss aids, how come obesity a problem still? Perhaps because magic exists solely within consumers’ hopes and dreams, which many commercial weight-loss providers exploit. Although industry experts agree that obesity management requires long-term behavioural, medical or surgical intervention,2 nearly all commercial weight-loss providers manipulate vulnerable consumers with impunity, cultivating unrealistic expectations and false beliefs. Recognizing the considerable morbidity and mortality associated with obesity, physicians, open public health campaigns and nongovernmental organizations fuel the open fire of the public’s weight-loss wishes by promoting knowing of obesity’s dangers.

However, by not explicitly recommending evidence-based treatments, these well-intentioned messages drive consumers to get around in an unregulated weight-loss wilderness blindly. Failure to impose and enforce penalties for false or misleading weight-loss claims results in a significant public health hazard. Not merely are patients being swindled, but additionally it is reasonable to assume that those people who have had multiple failed attempts at fraudulent programs are less likely to engage in evidence-based approaches.

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This escalates the risk that these individuals will suffer or succumb to the myriad health consequences of unwanted weight and, by doing this, increase society’s burden of illness and global health care expenditures. Physicians, governments and general public health departments all share medical and moral obligations to protect consumers from shady weight-loss procedures. Since weight loss addresses a medical concern for which treatment guidelines exist, weight-loss products and services must be regulated to safeguard consumer health. Precedents from the areas of healthcare suggest that the weight-loss industry can indeed be regulated and consumer protection enforced.

Currently, hospitals and other health care facilities, both private and public, are subject to necessary accreditation. Also, professional organizations can be given expert to oversee and arranged standards for health care practices that provide specialized services, as has happened in Ontario with private cosmetic surgery facilities recently. Neither public health agencies nor the medical community are doing enough to solve the problem of obesity.

Those battling with obesity tend to be desperate for solutions and therefore prone to exploitation. It’s time we put an end to this nonsense. Yoni Freedhoff MD Medical Director, Bariatric Medical Institute Ottawa, Ont. Arya M. Sharma MD PhD Chair and Professor of Obesity Research and Management University of Alberta Edmonton, Alta.

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