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Groups Say Weight-Loss Centers Don’t Disclose All

May 30, 1996

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Losing weight is difficult, but some commercial weight-loss centers make it harder by keeping basic information from potential clients, a coalition of consumer groups told the government.

Most of the information about costs and program length is given verbally _ when it is given at all, the groups said in a complaint lodged Wednesday with the Federal Trade Commission.

Without that information, consumers can’t adequately compare programs and find the best one for them, said Bruce Silverglade, legal affairs director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

``Consumers, after all, want to see their waistlines not their savings accounts shrink,″ Silverglade said at a news conference.

The groups have asked the FTC to require commercial weight-loss centers to make written information about their services and staff available to anyone thinking about signing up to shed unwanted pounds. The disclosures would include a program’s cost, length, effectiveness and safety as well as the qualifications of staff members.

Last year, 7.5 million people spent more than $1.7 billion at commercial weight-loss centers. The five largest are Jenny Craig, Nutri/System, Diet Center, Physicians Weight Loss Center and Weight Watchers International.

Some 48 million people _ one-fourth of the adult U.S. population _ are currently dieting, spending more than $33 billion annually on weight-loss products and services, according to the consumer groups’ complaint.

At least one diet center _ Weight Watchers _ agreed with CSPI.

``We agree ... that there needs to be more standardized practices across the board,″ said Linda Carilli, a registered dietician and spokeswoman for the Woodbury, N.Y.-based chain.

Registration and fees for the Weight Watchers program, based on weekly meetings, are fully disclosed, she said, and participants aren’t required to sign contracts or buy specially packaged foods.

A company statement said Jenny Craig, based in Del Mar, Calif., is ``confident in the efficacy of its program″ and follows regulatory requirements regarding advertising and disclosure of information.

Jenny Craig also said the costs and the length of its program, staff credentials and health risks associated with rapid weight loss are disclosed to participants before they enroll.

The information is ``readily available″ to potential patrons of Nutri/System, said Dr. Joseph DiBartolomeo, vice president of scientific affairs for the Horsham, Pa.-based company.

Representatives for Diet Center and Physicians Weight Loss Center, both of Akron, Ohio, declined to comment.

CSPI said it sent a representative to a Jenny Craig, Diet Center, Physicians Weight Loss Centers and Nutri/System program in the Washington area. Information for Weight Watchers was obtained by phone.

Information about the programs was ``completely unavailable″ or provided only upon request, according to the complaint.

Basic cost and program length were given verbally, except for Diet Center, which put program length in writing, the complaint said. Mandatory costs, such as for specially packaged foods required by the Jenny Craig and Nutri/System programs, were not disclosed, it said.

Staff credentials weren’t provided unless requested, and only Nutri/System disclosed the health risks of rapid weight loss.

Data on the effectiveness of the weight-loss programs are not regularly provided to clients and was not available upon request, the complaint said.

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