Junkfood Science: “Jump start your diet” and other diet tricks — the fine print

January 09, 2007

“Jump start your diet” and other diet tricks — the fine print

To mark the start of the diet season and the diet gimmicks we’re being bombarded with, Edgar at MousePrint exposes the fine print in the advertising for Kellogg’s new protein water called Special K2O Protein Water. That leads us to discover the truth about a slew of popular diet plans.

While the diet water claims we can lose up to 6 pounds in 2 weeks, MousePrint followed the asterisk on the advertisement and discovered that the weight loss being promoted had little to do with drinking the special water:


Special K2O Disclaimer: Average weight loss when replacing meals with two cereal meals is 5 pounds. Weight loss may vary....

So it is not that you drink this protein water to lose six pounds, but rather you must eat two bowls of cereal (presumably Special K) instead of two regular meals per day. The water helps account possibly for the extra pound of weight loss in their claim if used as a substitute for other higher calorie snacks, but it certainly is not the means to lose the six pounds promoted.

Using the Kellogg’s philosophy, a computer company could advertise a laptop and claim it will help you lose up to six pounds (if you eat cereal for two meals a day, and lug around the computer from place to place daily).

Special K2O water, incidentally, contains 50 calories, sugar, whey, and artificial sweetener per 16 oz. bottle. The whey contributes only five grams of protein, which is what you would get from drinking a mere five ounces of milk. And, the protein water is not cheap — it is $1.25 to $1.50 per bottle on sale.

The Special K Diet, claiming you can lose 10 pounds in 6 weeks by substituting their cereal for two meals a day, has been around for years. Not to be outdone, its competitor, Kraft, has its own “Eat 2, lose 10” pounds claim plastered on most of its Post brand cereals. In the fine print at Kraft Foods it says: “Weight loss achieved over a 12-week period. 50% of subjects lost 10 or more lbs. Average weight loss 11 lbs...Results may vary.”

Kraft claims that its cereal diet has been tested and:

At the end of 12 weeks the subjects who ate Post Healthy Classics cereal:

· Lowered their blood pressure

· Lowered their triglycerides (fat found in blood)

· Lost up to 10 pounds

· Took up to 3 inches off their waistlines

· Lost fat, not muscle

The Special K diet says it is “based on valid research conducted at leading universities.” That study published in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition is the same one used in support of the Volumetric diet, which the participants followed during the last phase of the study. The Volumetric diet (the belief that filling up on low-calorie, low-fat foods higher in water content, such as fruits and vegetables, will result in weight loss) has even been endorsed by the American Council on Science and Health.

A close look at this study finds that one-third of the participants dropped out, mostly during the Volumetrics phase — even though it was only a 6 week study. Complaints from the participants included that the diet left them feeling hungry and unsatisfied, was too expensive and time-consuming, and was too restrictive and repetitive (boring). And, despite the competition between cereal companies, there was no difference in the weight lost regardless of the variety of cereals eaten.

These proved to be just more gimmicks to reduce the calories eaten by about 500 to 600 calories per day. Still, the study discussion said that in evaluating their effectiveness, weight loss results were not positive. Based on the reduced energy (calorie) intake and the amount hypothesized that the participants would lose, the group following the Volumetrics diet lost only 25% of the predicted amount and the cereal dieters lost only half. The anticipated belief that the cereal phase could “jump start” a weight loss diet “by building motivation through early weight loss success” also proved false in this study, said the Purdue University researcher.

The bottom line is that a 6- or 12-week diet is a meaningless stunt and no diet has been shown to give long-term weight control success. Weight regain is the rule.

Even the FTC scientific panel review of fraudulent weight loss advertising, reported here, noted:

According to the National Academy of Science, Food and Nutrition Board, many programs and services exist to help individuals achieve weight control. But the limited studies paint a grim picture: those who complete weight-loss programs lose approximately 10 percent of their body weight only to regain two-thirds of it back within 1 year and almost all of it back within 5 years.

Addendum: Watch out for the “up to!” If a diet product claims you can lose “up to” X pounds, that “up to” means that their claim is only false if a person loses more. So everything under X pounds can count as a success — including losing nothing! Remember, “results may vary.” :)

© Sandy Szwarc 2007

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