Hard sell and “bizarre advice” in many of Australia’s weight-loss chains, Choice investigation

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 9th March 2012

In an investigation by Australian consumer advocacy group Choice into Australia’s biggest weight-loss chains, the group claims that people who want to lose weight are often faced with “aggressive sales tactics and bizarre advice”. However, as a big exception, the Jenny Craig organisation was favourable reviewed by Choice.

Choice’s investigation included weight loss chains Weight Watchers, Cohen’s Lifestyle Clinic, Jenny Craig and Weight Control Doctor. Information given by each company to ‘shadow shoppers’ was later assessed by independent medical experts in weight management and related illnesses.

Choice spokesperson Ingrid Just said, “We were struck by the aggressive sales tactics that some of the diet clinics used. The main priority seems to be to sign people up and get their money rather than devising a credible weight loss plan that will help them.

“The medical experts were alarmed by factually incorrect and poor clinical assessments given to Choice’s shadow shoppers at Weight Control Doctor, a clinic headed by Dr Sandra Cabot; author of the bestselling book The Liver Cleansing Diet.”

In one case, according to Choice, the consultant reportedly diagnosed a shopper with thyroid and adrenal problems, an assessment subsequently shown to be wrong in blood tests conducted by a GP.

One of Choice’s experts, Dr Sam Hay, said advice given by a named Clinic consultant bordered on being “irresponsible, misleading and negligent”.

Dr Hay said, “The consultant discouraged exercise, opting instead for a rapid weight-loss diet. Use of terms like ‘obesity syndrome’ were also criticised, “as the condition does not exist.”

Ms Just said that Choice was disappointed with the hard sell the shadow shoppers allegedly received at Weight Watchers, which operates on a points system for different foods.

She said, “The consultant did not check on medication or medical problems and did not place enough importance on the need for daily exercise.”

Despite having some questions about advice given to a shadow shopper in relation to BMI (Body Mass Index), Choice’s experts said they were generally impressed with the approach used by Jenny Craig consultants. The clinic rated well when it came to addressing health concerns, advice, options and a clear discussion of commitment and cost.

“While our experts didn’t agree with all advice given by Jenny Craig, they were impressed by the clarity of information, the care taken to find out the person’s medical history and the absence of aggressive sales tactics,” said Ms Just.