Fat Claims, Fat Chance

A web of interrelated North County enterprises — known for high-pressure TV ads — professes its products will help you peel off body fat. But to conceal what it is doing, this group of purported health-care-product distributors has gotten rather bloated itself.

For example, if you go to California secretary of state records, you will find these interlinked limited liability companies registered: Continuity Products, Obesity Research Institute, Pounds Lost, Zylotrim, Dencor Research, Cell Genetics, Appetrol, Zodiac Foundation, Cyvita, Finance Marketing, Hdusdu, and Beau Cheveux. The last two have been canceled.

By touting alleged “clinical studies” that back up their claims, the promoters have sold a slew of so-called dietary and health products: Lipozene, Cyvita, I-PAK, Excelerene, MetaboUp, Lumanex, Appetrol, Vita 26, Metabo Pro, and Pounds Lost, to name a few.

The companies are run by Henny Den Uijl and Bryan Corlett, although some of the entities may be run by one or the other, not jointly. The companies have various headquarter locations: Carlsbad, Encinitas, Rancho Santa Fe, and Reno, Nevada. The two principals and the in-house lawyer, Joshua Weiss, did not return repeated phone calls.

In 2005, the Federal Trade Commission sued Den Uijl, Corlett, Obesity Research Institute, and FiberThin in federal court in San Diego. The case was settled. The commission ruled that four products — FiberThin, Propolene, MetaboUp, and Excelerene, which then had aggregate gross sales of $41 million — must stop claiming in ads that they bring substantial weight loss without any need for special diets or exercise and that all users can benefit. Two years earlier, the commission, in its war against bogus weight-loss advertising, had declared such claims verboten.

Result: the marketers had to cough up $1.5 million in consumer redress and were permanently enjoined from making such representations.

Then, in 2009 in state court in Los Angeles, an individual claimed that Obesity Research Institute and Corlett were making similar false claims for weight-loss-treatment Lipozene. The same year, another individual in the same court said that Zylotrim, a purported weight-loss product marketed by the same web of companies, violated unfair competition, unjust enrichment, and breach of warranty laws. The cases were consolidated.

Early last year, the suits were settled. Zylotrim would cease business, and Lipozene advertising would pump out no more false statements. Lawyers were awarded a combined sum of $325,000.

On January 12, in federal court in San Diego, lawyer Ronald Marron filed a class action suit against Obesity Research Institute for unfair competition and violation of consumer laws. The alleged villains were Lipozene and MetaboUp. Through its ads, the so-called institute “claims that the products not only cause rapid and significant weight loss, but also that the weight loss consists of body fat as opposed to other types of weight loss,” says the suit.

Indeed, Lipozene on its website asserts that 78 percent of each pound lost is pure body fat; this dubious claim is backed by clinical studies that are not identified, according to the suit. Lipozene says it can peel off your fat “without making major lifestyle changes that can be potentially harmful to your system.” Hmm. Sounds like clever wording to skate around the Federal Trade Commission’s ruling. The suit says the Lipozene ad copy violates the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act.

Beau Cheveux touted Nutra Renew hair spray in a 30-minute infomercial. The Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program, set up by the nonprofit National Advertising Review Council in 2004 to monitor deceptive advertising, studied the product’s claims, one of which was that you can have “silky, shiny, smooth hair…in seconds right before your eyes.” No way, declared the regulator.

Product claims of the interconnected North County web get a lot of criticism online. Cyvita is an herbal erectile dysfunction pill. Ads boast of “longer, stronger, more frequent erections” and you get “a 1 week supply without a prescription.” Hmm. Mark Vaughan has a website, youarenotafitperson.com, that examines just such assertions. He notes that Cialis and Levitra are two of the most popular drugs for erectile dysfunction. To Vaughan, the name Cyvita seems like a clever combination of the two.

In assessing Lipozene, Vaughan, too, pored over websites in which the marketers claim that clinical studies back up such assertions as 78 percent of each pound lost is pure body fat. But he can’t find those clinical studies, either. Promised refunds don’t come (a common complaint on the web), and Lipozene simply “doesn’t work,” says Vaughan.

Maggie Mahar, author of Healthbeatblog.com, titles her piece “Learning from Lipozene: The Anatomy of a Drug Scam.” While some say the major ingredient, glucomannan, can suppress appetite, none of the studies has involved Lipozene. It’s a case of “distorting research findings and over-selling effectiveness,” she says. And she points out that Lipozene is not only a TV advertising scam. It’s a multilevel marketing ruse, too — at least it was in 2008. Websites agree to host Lipozene ads and get a commission, as well as a payment for other websites they recruit into the pyramid.

The fiber in Lipozene can be helpful in weight loss, “but you can find much cheaper sources of fiber elsewhere, and then you don’t have to be caught up in the Lipozene customer service issues and billing scams,” says dietpill.org.

“Some companies practicing homeopathy fraud are as sneaky and slick as snake-oil salespeople,” says lawyersandsettlements.com, citing Lipozene and its supplier, Obesity Research Institute. The institute’s website boasts that Lipozene “is manufactured by a reputable organization known as the Obesity Research Institute.” Hmm.

So what does Lipozene do about all the authors saying the product is a scam? It has a website of its own, lipozenescam.org. The website concludes that Lipozene is not a scam — in fact, seems to be something of a miracle. “[Obesity Research Institute] does not disclose to consumers that the website is simply another advertisement by [Obesity Research Institute] for the products,” says Marron’s suit.

According to Maggie Mahar, the self-professed research institute considers fines “part of the cost of doing business.”

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Whenever I see an unlikely claim, I search for the name plus "scam". Typically, I'll find someone who debunks the claim, saving me time and effort...just occasionally I'll find corroboration.

These clever slimeballs, by registering the url of the name of their product and "scam", then putting in content reassuring the sceptical, have alerted me to this nasty trick. I'll have to redouble my scepticism.

Thanks for the info, Don.

I don't know if these folks are the only ones to have a website with their product's name and "scam," and then tout the product. I have seen websites touting dubious products in which there is a denial that it is a scam, though. Buyer beware. Always. Best, Don Bauder

The elephant in the room is that fact that we don't teach skepticism in the schools. Make them all researchers and muckraking journalists--they're gonna be anyway, given the developing tradition of citizen journalism, thank God/Nature!

PS: Oh, yeah, all you teachers out there have gotta stop boring them to tears or mischief anyway. Sometime an "overactive" kid can just be bored with the "curriculum." Let billions and billions of stars shine before they are dimmed by that black hole called the educational system.

When I was in grade school -- beginning 70 years ago -- we were taught that politicians were statesmen, business executives were godlike, judges were perfect, capitalism was flawless, America only fought just wars, etc. It took me several years to learn it twarn't necessarily so. Best, Don Bauder

See Ivan Illich's stuff.

The most educated man I ever knew always put "uneducated" in the box for education on the various forms that the "educated" devise to insult their own intelligence.

I spent years undoing the harm the educational system did to my own psyche (just the "factual" stuff that was far from it); the power to distinguish thinking from believing took even longer.

Look at history texts, even in the higher grades. American students are told definitively that a war was justified by the actions of an aggressor. But in the purported aggressor's country, students get a completely different story. Best, Don Bauder

The "clinical proof" and "clinical studies" that support the claims of these outfits are rarely described in any sort of scholarly detail. I'm not all that convinced that government regulation can prevent scams, or that it is always in the best interests of the consumers. But what we now have is a subculture of believers who will buy, not because there is real proof and regulatory approval, but because the product lacks those. If something is prescribed by a regular physician through a regular pharmacy and reimbursed by a regular insurance plan, why, there must be something wrong with it! Only if it is totally outside the system can it be trusted. Anything produced by the US pharmaceutical industry is part of a major corporate conspiracy to NOT treat your illness and to rip you off.

Where and how this level of distrust has arisen, I do not know. But it is pervasive, persistent, and a growing feature of the health care "system." Some stores sell hundreds of dollars worth of those nostrums to single customers in a single visit. The herbal/mineral hucksters take hours on weekends on major, mainstream radio stations to push their allegedly-miraculous supplements. If one were to believe their claims, taking the proper admixture of herbs and minerals would insure an end to mortality, and endless lives, combined with vigor and health forever.

Yeah, what we all need is not a dose of herbs and minerals, but a megadose of skepticism.

Good points, Visduh. I have done a lot of work on medical scams. Roughly one-quarter to one-third of people feel they have gotten well no matter what kind of placebo they take. This creates a natural market for hucksters promoting "cures." About one-third of the people buying the stuff DO believe it helped them, when it certainly did not. It's the same with faith healing and other forms of quackery. Best, Don Bauder

". . . the regrettable burdens of a free society," as John Gardner once put it.

But our society is becoming less free. So what are our regrettable burdens? Best, Don Bauder

I was positive that the woman who has been doing the TV ads for Lipozene was a former news rpeorter for one of the San Diego stations.

I cannot recall her name, but I am postive she was a reporter here. Now that you inform us that this is a locla company I know it for sure.

She is blond, good looking and has been doing the commercials since they started marketing this stuff.

OK, now I know hwo this scam is working, they bill you $40 per month, every month, unauthorized;

"Well either they don't care if you say no, or they just send it to you anyway, because 30 days after I ordered I saw a new charge on my credit card statement for $40.90. I immediately called Lipozene and asked them why they charged me again. They said that they had shipped my second months worth of Lipozene, and that the total would come to approximately $70. The guy I spoke with told me that they would be charging me around $30 the following week."


There are numerous complaints online about how this group of LLCs handles consumer services. Best, Don Bauder

I don't know who appears in those TV ads; I would not be surprised if it is a former reporter here. Best, Don Bauder

The Lipozene commercial with the blonde is on YouTube. Who is the blonde?

Sorry, Burwell, I don't recognize her. That doesn't mean she was not on TV in San Diego. Best, Don Bauder

Yep, that is her-I am SURE she was a reporter here, I cannot recall wwhere, but it was probably 10 years ago........

My guess is that somebody will identify her, thanks to the youtube sent by Burwell. Best, Don Bauder

She is definitely quite attractive and has a skilled delivery. Best, Don Bauder

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