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Prairie Fare: Some Weight Loss Ads Take the Cake

With about two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese, the companies that sell weight loss programs have plenty of potential customers.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

"Seven weeks ago I weighed 268 pounds. Now I am down to 148 pounds! During this time I didn't change my eating habits at all; the pounds must have disappeared only due to the new slimming capsule. My appearance is so different that my friends actually believe I had liposuction," read the ad.

This testimonial stood out from among the 195 weight loss advertisements studied by the Federal Trade Commission. It "took the cake," so to speak.

Who knows? Maybe the person in the ad lived on cake because the amazing slimming capsules claimed to absorb all the fat in the digestive tract.

To achieve the 120-pound weight loss described would have required a daily calorie deficit of more than 8,500 calories. Unless the person was running a daily marathon and eating nothing, it wouldn't be possible.

Weight loss is a multibillion dollar industry. With about two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese, the companies have plenty of potential customers.

Testimonials are just one technique used by advertisers to entice people to buy their products. The ads often promise fast and guaranteed results, frequently with no diet or exercise requirements. They often use before and after pictures and promise long-term results.

Steer clear of fads during March, National Nutrition Month. Here are some questions to ask about nutrition and diet advertisements and articles. Each "yes" answer raises a red flag. Dig a little deeper and look a little farther when the flags go up!

  • Does the ad, article or person promise a quick fix? Give yourself some time to make changes in your diet. Take small steps toward better health.
  • Do they cast doubts about current food and health recommendations? Recommendations change as more research is done. Stay tuned for the latest information by visiting
  • Does the product sound too good to be true? Be especially careful when a product is advertised as a "cure" for serious diseases, such as cancer, heart disease or arthritis. Follow your medical provider's advice.
  • Do they make a recommendation based on a single study? One study may not prove anything, but several studies can uncover the truth.
  • Do they tell you not to trust scientific organizations? It's OK to question things, but ask yourself if the advertiser is more interested in your health or your money.
  • Do they provide lists of bad and good foods? Aim for variety in your diet. Don't cut out foods or food groups. What you don't eat can affect your health, too!
  • Do they get their information from nonscientific sources? Some ads use testimonials from people who say they feel better or look better. Sometimes these stories are true, but sometimes the people in the ads are paid actors.

Stick with a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Here's a recipe from Contra Costa Health Services and the California 5 A Day program. At 100 calories per flavorful serving and loaded with nutrients, it's a dieter's dream.

Outtasight Salad

2 c. salad greens of your choice

1 c. chopped vegetables (tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, green beans)

1 c. pineapple chunks in juice, drained, or orange segments

1/4 c. dynamite dressing

2 Tbsp. raisins or dried cranberries

2 Tbsp. chopped nuts

Dynamite Dressing Ingredients

1/4 c. fruit-flavored, nonfat yogurt

1 Tbsp. orange juice

1 1/2 tsp. white vinegar

Put the mixed salad greens on a large platter or in a salad bowl. In a large bowl, mix the chopped vegetables and pineapple chunks or orange segments. Prepare dressing by mixing ingredients in a small bowl. Add the dressing to vegetable-fruit mixture and stir. Spoon over salad greens. Top with raisins and nuts. Serve.

Makes four servings. Each serving has 100 calories, 2.5 grams (g) of fat, 18 g of carbohydrate and 70 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin A.

NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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