Can a Diet Pill Work Without Diet or Exercise?

Weight loss experts separate the facts from the hype about Lipozene.

Jan. 2, 2008 — -- America's obesity struggles have made international headlines in the last several years, and with the new year have come countless slim-down resolutions.

With the vast weight loss industry, people's search for the magic bullet to drop pounds often leads them to buy products with the best, and possibly exaggerated claims.

And now some health-care professionals are voicing concern over one infomercial suggesting easy weight loss without having to work hard through diet and exercise.

"There's no secret remedy that has been buried for all these decades. I promise you, if there were something good, we'd all know about it. It would be on the front page of the newspaper. We'd all be using it and they wouldn't have to promote it on television," said George Washington University Weight Management Program medical director Arthur Frank.

Yet, commercials promising weight loss with a mere pill pop continue to woo customers' wallets and fuel the $55 billion U.S. weight loss market, according to Marketdata Enterprises.

One popular product whose commercials regularly air late at night may not be delivering on its promises, according to at least one dissatisfied customer.

"I believe it's money wasted," said one woman who said the diet pill Lipozene was ineffective. "I didn't see the results that I thought I would be getting." She asked that her identity be concealed.

The price isn't cheap. One month's supply cost ABC News $81.77.

"When you're looking to lose weight and you're putting your hopes into a product, you want it to be a viable product," the woman added.

Lipozene makes incredible claims and has generated much hype. Its infomercial suggests people can eat what they want without changing their lifestyles and still lose weight.

"It's a miracle, I swear it is," says one person quoted on the commercial. "I just ate what I wanted and I lost weight. & Being able to lose the weight without having to really work hard is really fantastic. I loved it."

Frank said he finds these claims troubling.

"I get very worried; I get very concerned when they say that you don't have to change the way you eat, and you don't have to change your lifestyle," Frank said. "Then I say, 'No, no, no. That doesn't work. It doesn't make any sense.'"

Weight loss experts said it's nearly impossible for Lipozene to work. The pill essentially is a fiber pill and its ads mislead, they said.

"This type of an infomercial does raise false hopes," said David Heber, a professor of medicine and UCLA Center for Human Nutrition director.

The pill's active ingredient is glucomannan, which is supposed to expand in the stomach and fill it up so people eat less. The ads claim the pill's effectiveness is "backed by 12 clinical studies."

Heber said the studies deal with glucomannan, but not Lipozene, itself. The research also included an additional element that was not hyped in the Lipozene infomercial.

"All of them had diet and exercise included. You can't simply lose weight without diet and exercise," Heber said.

Only in small, hard-to-read print at the bottom of the infomercial does the same information appear in the Lipozene infomercials.

The Obesity Research Institute

The Obesity Research Institute, which is the company behind Lipozene, may sound official, but it's really just a privately run company. ABC News traced the company to an Encinitas, Calif., house.

In 2004, "Good Morning America" investigated the claims of another amazing weight loss product Propolene, which was also produced by the institute.

"I was 247 [pounds] eight weeks ago and I'm 30 pounds lighter today," one enthused customer said in the Propolene infomercial.

After the ABC News report, the Federal Trade Commission also investigated the Obesity Research Institute.

"These ads really caught our eye because of the extreme weight loss claims they were making," said FTC advertising practices associate director Mary Engle.

The FTC fined the institute and its key players $1.5 million for making false and deceptive claims about Propolene and three other diet pills. "The FTC requires that all advertising claims be truthful, not misleading, and backed up by sound science," Engle said.

In the settlement, the defendants denied the allegations and admitted no wrongdoing.

The Company's Response

The company refused to give ABC News an official comment about Lipozene. But ABC News reached a Lipozene supervisor by phone who said that the claims in the infomercial are "100 percent true" and that people don't have to change their diet or exercise habits to lose weight.

The supervisor added that customers will achieve faster results if they alter their diet and workout patterns. He said the company hears success stories all the time, but admitted it doesn't work for everyone.

ABC News found no mention of diet and exercise on Lipozene's bottle or packaging.

Engle, who wouldn't comment specifically on the Lipozene ad, said people should look at weight loss product claims with a skeptical eye.

"Your mother may have told you, 'If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.' Well, that's correct. That's good advice. It's advice we should all listen to," Engle said.

"This is not a simple solution for the extraordinarily complex task of weight loss. I recognize that we don't have a simple solution, and surely this is not it," Frank said.

How to Protect Yourself

Aside from being skeptical of hype, the FTC said consumers should be especially aware of advertisements or infomercials of products that claim to block the absorption of fat and calories.

It also said customers should look out for products claiming users will lose more than three pounds a week for four weeks or longer. Any weight loss faster than that rate is unsafe.

Finally, products that claim to work for everyone should be avoided.