Diet Companies Say the Darndest Things

BullshitI don’t know why, but I’ve found myself spammed recently by a bunch of people asking me to write about all manner of weight loss crap on the blog.  At first I was annoyed, but now I’ve taken to e-mailing them back – asking about research, or the claims that they make.

I thought I would provide the write-ups they are requesting as an intermittent series on the blog to examine the veracity and people behind the claims in this type of marketing.  Here is the first installment, I’ve put the e-mails in order, redacted or changed information in an effort to avoid giving promotion to crappy products, and put the emails from the weight loss company  in italics so you can skip them if you’re worried about being triggered (though to be fair you’ll also miss some things that would be hilarious if they weren’t so tragic):

I’m Natalie the founder of the  App and my developer’s company name is Blah Blah Blah  as all of my apps will aim to encourage interaction. My app has already been released on google play, but has not yet been released on iTunes,  this will happen at the end of March. With an increasing risk in a many young children’s health and fitness levels my app solves the problem of obesity.

About My app

My app users to chance to learn fitness and health tips while playing an addictive game. So they are tricked into learning whilst playing. The idea of the game is to ovoid and jump over junk food such as chocolate muffins and chips. Just like in reality you can have a few of these treats but not too many otherwise you will be back at square one. (The start of the level) If you have two many junk foods (two) you are given a health or fitness tip. (pop up) the reason why this app is special and very different is that it is primarily aimed at parents with children. Either the parents watch their children play and read the health tips, or parents play whilst their children read the health and fitness tips.

I have serious questions both with the claim and the phrasing of “solve the problem of obesity” but I have more concerns about the issue with “healthy living” aps for kids when we know that these programs have been linked, not to thinner or healthier kids, but to increased eating disorders.  So I wrote back:

Have you done any research about the app as it relates to triggering disordered eating?

~Ragen

This is where things went pretty much off the rails…

I created this app with a personal trainer who has helped me lose a lot of weight and make healthier chooses. So yes I have carried out research. 

With kind regards,

Natalie

I.. I just…oh good grief.  I reached out again.

Hi Natalie,

What you described is not research. Research would, first and foremost, involve the use of the actual product you are marketing and the intended audience for that product (in this case, children). Also, ideally it would be conducted using the scientific method to test a specific hypothesis, seeking to find and control variables so that they are not confounding, include a representative and statistically significant sample, and follow up over time.

Without research, what you are doing is experimenting on children. Recently some research (see Pinhas et. al. for example) has shown that things that people think will help kids to be thinner or healthier may actually be leading to eating disorders (hospitalizations for eating disorders in kids under 12 are up 119%).

You should be aware that you are selling something that may well be putting users at risk for developing or furthering their eating disorder.  If you don’t have an answer for how you are mitigating this, then what you are doing is dangerous and irresponsible, you are putting people – specifically children – at risk for your own profit with no proof of efficacy.  This is a product that I’d like to review in my blog but before I do that I’ll need you to help me understand how you feel comfortable doing that.

Sincerely,

~Ragen

Now the responses become interesting in a “something different than I said before” kind of way.

Oh I get what you are saying now, and no no no the tips are not for children to follow the actual game play i.e jumping and throwing the water bottles part of the game is. The tips are for adults. (parents) 

My primary job is working with children under the age of five and their parents/careers. I’m an early years teacher so when I say the game is for children I meant that as it’s very easy for a young child to play and I say it’s interactive as parents can and do watch their children play the game rather then just leave them to it they can bond and watch them play and get a few health tips along the way. 

The tips are not for children to follow not at all. Im a mother to two children aged 1 and 8 so I would never let them follow these health tips. I’m also a teacher so my audience are parents who want to sit with their child and gain some health and fitness tips along the way. 

Thank you for getting back to me I will make a note so it’s clear.

With kind regards,

Natalie

It’s time to seek clarification:

Thanks for your response.  I apologize, but I’m now I’m a bit confused!  In the original e-mail you had said

” it is primarily aimed at parents with children. Either the parents watch their children play and read the health tips, or parents play whilst their children read the health and fitness tips.”

Are you intending that the kids read the health tips but don’t follow them?  I’m sorry if I’m being dense I just want to understand this before I write about it.

Thanks so much!

~Ragen

Now things are really changing fast:

It’s ok sorry for the confusion I should have wrote that it is for both adults and children but the health tips are for adults only. I have added a notes of this in the app description

I went to the website and she did add “*Please note that the health and fitness tips are for adults to follow and not young children”  but I’m not sure it makes up for the rest of the description:

Screen Shot Description

Isn’t there enough pressure on women who just had a baby to try to look like they didn’t just have a baby?  Also, “organic health bars?”  Mmmm, appetizing.

Also, this example screenshot makes me more than a little concerned about the promised “health and fitness tips”

Screen Shot Water BenefitsSo I soldiered on:

Hi Natalie.

Thanks!  Last question so that I can do the write up.  Your marketing says that your app “solves the problem of obesity”  Can you clarify the research that you have around that?  Thanks so much for your help and clarification, I really appreciate it.

~Ragen

And her response is what’s typical – people don’t feel that they need any real research or evidence to claim, for profit, that they can change people’s body size. including children:

I’m just a mum who works in a nursery so the people who I have told the app about said it helped them lose weight. Scientific research a along with a small group of people that have followed the tips and have also lost weight my self included. 

I.e one of the tips says to swap white rice with whole gain rice….Research from the government Would agree with this.

In London England we have this from the government which a lot of my advice is based around

http://www.nhs.uk/Change4Life/Pages/change-for-life.aspx

Also getting help from Nurses and a personal trainer who I’m married to.

There is not a single study where more than a tiny fraction of people have lost weight longterm using any method (diet, lifestyle change, etc.) There is no proof that this app will live up to it’s promises, or that it won’t lead to unintended results like increases in disordered eating by encouraging the good food/bad food dichotomy and suggesting that people judge the success of exercise based on a change in body size.  This is what happens in a world where society lets people believe that not being fat, or managing the short term weight loss that almost every achieves and that typically becomes weight regain, makes them experts on becoming thin permanently, including for children.

Weight loss is always “buyer beware” and I find that becomes much more apparent the more you talk to the people selling it.  If this was an American company, maybe they could get more publicity as part of the next Federal Trade Commission deceptive weight loss practices bust.

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Published in: on March 4, 2014 at 7:53 pm  Comments (45)  

45 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. One of the many hilarious things about this is that she obviously can’t have read your blog. Well, you were as good as your word!

    • I’m not even convinced she can read and write English! Her grammar and spelling were hilarious!

  2. Drinking 8 glasses of water a day results in “huge weight loss?” Um.

    • I know, right? Strange how I already do that, and yet my weight’s remained unaffected…

    • The “drink 8 glasses a day” bromide is a classic example of an unsubstantiated, unsupported claim that has become absolutely fixed in popular culture. Apparently there’s little to no evidence to support the idea that we need 8 glasses a day, nor is there any evidence to show that one must get all one’s water from liquids rather than from the water content of foods. Here’s a very interesting article from the British Medical Journal on this:

      http://www.bmj.com/content/343/bmj.d4280?keytype=ref&ijkey=ZD92BtTrOIdw3Rv

      And of course for those of us with congestive heart failure, kidney disease, or various other health problems, drinking that much water can be actively harmful. But try telling that to the health police!

      • Yeah, I corrected one of my choir directors on this. He said that if you drink 8 glasses of water a day for three weeks, your body will learn to hydrate itself and adjust so it NEEDS that level of hydration all the time…and your vocal chords get used to it…and you sing better…etc.

        And I thought, “WHAT the everlasting hell?”

        • It’s a load of tosh. That much water every day can overload the kidneys and cause severe illness. The original suggestion was that people should increase their TOTAL daily fluid intake, including fluid in their food.

      • It’s also impractical as hell for a lot of us. Having worked Production/QC, I can tell you firsthand that no way would my employers have tolerated the number of bathroom breaks I’d need in an average day to deal with that much water.:/

        • I actually am thirsty enough to drink 64 oz of water a day, and I find it annoying that I have to carefully ration my water because I won’t be able to pee for 6-10 hours.

          But putting that aside…I’m not sure what the guidelines for drinking water are based on, and I definitely don’t need them, but some kind of guideline might be helpful for people with impaired thirst drive, like my 92 year old grandpa. He just tries to drink a large glass whenever he eats (and his appetite is also lower because of his age so he’s had to develop an eating routine (i.e., relies on external cues) instead of relying on hunger).

    • Oh yeah and apparently drinking water builds strong muscles! I just…So I chug enough water and I’m ready to start bench pressing hundreds of pounds? WTF?
      Yes we need a certain amount of liquid to live and function well, but it sheer idiocy in this day and age to think water can do anything besides hydrate us.

    • I often drink more than that. It just makes me pee.

  3. I love how no research becomes the research of having talked to her spouse the fitness trainer, a couple random people who claim to have lost weight over a short period, and an unspecified number of nurses whose area of expertise is not mentioned. For all I know, said nurses could be working mostly with orthopedic injuries or labor and delivery… in which case there is no reason to suppose they know more than average about bariatric issues. And we have no way of knowing how much weight any of these random people lost, nor how long they’ve kept it off. For all we know, any or all of them may have tried the app last week, used the tips, and kept off a rousing couple of ounces for a few days.

    And she’s marketing an app to children under five? Who both are and are not supposed to read the handy weight loss tips? Which their mothers are then not supposed to apply to the kids, but only themselves?

    BTW, love the use of the recent pregnancy as a further stick to encourage the kids to beat mommy up with. Because a fat mommy had better be a pregnant mommy, amiright?

    Bah!

    Then again, considering she wants you – of all people! – to promote her annoying and potentially harmful app, reading comprehension does not appear to be her strong point.

    • Not 24 hours after I had my daughter via emergency Kaiserschnitt (and was still bleeding like crazy and unable to walk upright), I had a post-surgical consult with the doctor assigned to me, a man I had never seen before the birth but who had been given “my case”. My stomach was swollen and bruised, I was still on a catheter, I hadn’t slept or eaten for two days, and I felt like utter shit because it has been a long, long arduous and highly risky pregnancy full of terror, and it had ended in a 2 am emergency C-sektion all in German in which I was completely paralysed and strapped to a table, unable to move.

      And the doctor said, “You will need to come back in two weeks.”

      And I said, “Why? for a check-up?”

      And he said, “No, that is when our post-birth weight-loss exercise classes begin. Here is a pamphlet. You will need them.”

      And I thought, FUCK YOU.

      • Funny thing, that’s what I’m thinking right now!

        Sheesh!

      • See? You’re nicer than I am. I wouldn’t just have THOUGHT it.🙂

        • Dang it, this is why we need a ‘Like’ button!😛
          I would have smacked the crap out of him and blamed it on the pain meds…

      • I would’ve had several creative suggestions for things he could do with that pamphlet. You’re not healed from surgery for six weeks. Even with an uncomplicated vaginal birth, two weeks is generally considered kind of soon to resume exercise.

  4. I still don’t get how it is an app for children, but geared for adults in its message. I don’t know very many adults who watch over their child’s back when they play games- they just start it up and go.

    Mmmmmm… organic health bars. There’s some real eats right there. *eyeroll*

    I don’t think you really got through to her, but then again she obviously doesn’t know you or your approach to health and fitness. I still like your style of engaging her so we can have this facepalm gem to add to the collection.

  5. This is awesome… I’m still perplexed how playing what essentially amounts to a video game helps you lose weight anyway (games that require actual activity aside). Isn’t this the sort of thing blamed for obesity all the time?

    • OOOh! The irony doth runneth over don’t it?😉

  6. Wow. Just… wow. Aside from thinking that having lost a couple of pounds make you an expert who has conducted research, I can’t believe she’s lifting her “tips” off a government website.

    Because a government website couldn’t possibly have any misinformation, right? Forget for a moment the fact that the majority of their “swaps” for “healthier” eating would be directly counterproductive to my health goals. I mean, that can’t be right — everybody’s body and metabolism are exactly the same, after all. *eyeroll*

  7. She’s a ‘teacher’ and she can’t use proper grammar or spell? Maybe SHE needs some kind of app.

    • I kept wondering if English is not her first language. At least hoping so, for her sake.

  8. I hpe Natalie enjoys your write up of her product. I sure did!🙂

  9. Er, she misspelled and misused about fifteen words. And she is discussing your use of “around”? For that alone, I would not have trusted her supposed product or site.

    Aside from the fact, of course, that her research was questionable, at best, as you noted, and that her message was both unclear and harmful.

    • No kidding. I’ve always heard from the Sales/PR folk I know that the first thing you should want for a successful sales pitch is for it to be concise and coherent. (Even if what you’re selling is in reality useless crap. :p) This bucketload of double talk is neither.

  10. Someone remade Captain Novolin?

    My mind hasn’t been this blown since I found out there was a Hobgoblins 2.

    • Hobgoblins 2

      You win.😀

      • Do I? Or am I just fantsizing about winning while my car is being pushed off a ledge?

        Nah, I’m safe. No fantasy of mine would include a mockbuster of Captain Novolin.😉

    • I hadn’t seen your comment when I said the same thing!

      • I know, right? Who knew there was such a huge market for games about evil donut overlords? I will say this for Captain Novolin, though: flawed as it was, at least its heart was in the right place. This looks like the same misinformation as usual packaged up to teach fat kids (oh, excuse me, their *parents,* known for paying rapt attention to the content of their kids’ games) being fat is a moral failure that makes you Alduin to the thin child’s Dovahkiin. I’d support Hobgoblins 3 over a message like that.

  11. I am seriously hoping that the “around” person wasn’t the diet ap person…since that person had multiple grammar issues far beyond common use colloquialisms….

  12. Looking forward to the next installment, that post wins at least one internet today. And as someone who did, in fact, just have a baby, fuck you very much Ms. AppMaker for thinking I should be jogging and littering water bottles instead of bonding with my baby.

  13. By the way, encouraging bottled water will increase the waste of plastic bottles … and there is plenty of research (however epidemiological) that food bars (organic or otherwise) are not automatically healthy.

    I don’t know all the written “tips” but the visual cues, which, hmmm, d’ya think the KIDS would maybe be susceptible to those?, are also not substantiated …

    … or sensible … or well thought-out … or … geez.

  14. Oh wow, so much ignorance and delusion, all neatly packed into one lame-ass app game.

  15. Smdh

  16. LOL, I actually work with some app developers in an early stage incubator. This app game sounds like the myriad of proposals we get and that get trashed within minutes of arriving.

    It seems like an outgrowth of the stupid dietary advice I’ve gotten over the years. As if any reasonable person doesn’t know it is better to eat an orange then drink orange juice and that chips are not vegetables etc….

    Now the stupidity is in a game. This woman’s “research” didn’t even amount to reading the intro to your blog. I am sure she paid some developer a mint to create her little game and will never even break even… that should be a comfort to us all.

  17. God people are funny. Love your articles. Keep up the good work🙂

  18. Funnily enough my latest post was about values and had an illustration about the grammar Nazi and where they go so wrong. You have to feel a little sorry for them. They are very, very insecure people.

  19. I don’t know how you stay so POLITE. Your questions are all lucid and upbeat, where I would be gnashing my teeth and swearing. This person and her husband thought up a very stupid app, and think they deserve to have YOU promote it so THEY can make some money off a dumb ass idea with bad information. Rrrrrrrrr

    • Hey Nellie,

      It may be helpful to remember that I knew my questions were going to be published. If that hadn’t have been the case I may well have trended more towards the gnashing of the teeth and the salty language!

      ~Ragen

  20. Reblogged this on Talk Shop With Cie and commented:
    ” The idea of the game is to ovoid and jump over junk food such as chocolate muffins and chips.”
    Sounds like she got her inspiration from the Captain Novolin game of the 1990s. It was a game that they gave kids who had been diagnosed with diabetes. Look it up on You Tube. Silliest thing I’ve seen in a while.

    • I did look it up. That’s some scary s$%t!


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