Several times in my career I have documented how people have been misled and endangered by companies peddling weight reduction products. In Green Bay, I investigated a weight reduction center that put women on starvation diets to the point that gobs of their hair fell out. One woman who was pregnant was put on a diet that could harm her unborn baby. Just because you walk into a weight reduction clinic and talk to someone with a white lab coat on doesn't mean you'll get good nutritional advice. Those people in the lab coats probably are not registered dietitians. More likely, they are salespeople.
I also exposed a woman who got her Ph.D. in nutrition from a diploma mill whose founder was arrested for nutrition fraud. The woman claimed that juvenile delinquents could be more easily reformed if sugar was removed from their diets. To demonstrate her theory, she had college students grasp sugar cubes in their fists and hold their arms straight out. When the students could no longer hold their arms out, she declared that the sugar made them weak. A Milwaukee newspaper carried this story without questioning her theory or degree.
If you want nutritional advice, talk to a registered dietitian. You can find them by calling your local hospital.
My first encounter with questionable weight reduction clinics was as a reporter in Dallas. A woman called me about a weight reduction clinic she was going to near Fort Worth. She went to the clinic almost every day to get a shot of HCG, human chorionic gonadotropin, made from the urine of pregnant woman. She worked at a hospital and when she told doctors there about what she was doing, they advised her to bail out of the weight reduction clinic. She asked me to check out the clinic.
I learned that many weight reduction centers in the Dallas Fort Worth metroplex were using HCG. A nutritionist I had worked with at the American Medical Association told me that an Air Force physician in San Antonio had studied the HCG diet. So I hopped on a plane and interviewed him. This doctor, an endocrinologist, said he found that the HCG did nothing to help a person lose weight. The diet clinics were putting consumers on 500 calories a day, which would cause anyone to lose weight. He said that HCG was a hormone and should not be given to a patient without a good reason.
After I aired a series of diet clinic stories on KDFW-TV, which included a woman who had her sciatic nerve injured while getting a shot of the hormone, area weight reduction clinics dropped HCG and went on to the next fad, liquid protein.
The liquid protein diet was developed by George Blackburn, M.D., of Harvard for hospital use with morbidly obese patients. But without his approval, liquid protein was becoming a popular weight reduction "magic bullet."
When I called Dr. Blackburn, he said that using liquid protein outside the confines of a hospital could have serious consequences. He was coming to Dallas for a medical convention and was willing to be interviewed.
As a result of my interview with Dr. Blackburn, I was one of the first reporters to tell consumers that you could die on the liquid protein diet. Dr. Blackburn said the Centers for Disease Control had confirmed a number of cases around the country where young, healthy women, a number of them mothers, died on the liquid protein diet. Dr. Blackburn said that long-term use without medical supervision could bring on or aggravate such problems as kidney and heart conditions, diabetes and gout.
Dr. Blackburn is a world-renowned expert in weight reduction and is on the editorial board of the Journal of the American Medical Association and New England Journal of Medicine, but the largest chain of weight reduction centers in the Southwest sued him and me.
Although we most likely saved lives with this accurate report, the lawsuit was my third in as many years. My news director was not happy. I was so concerned that I actually lost my appetite for a day. (Talk about weight loss!)
Then I started wondering what kind of people were running these weight control centers. I did some checking and found out that the operator who was suing me also owned 12 nude dancing clubs in Houston, Austin, and Killeen and had several brushes with the law, including a violation of federal firearms law and a felony conviction for interstate transportation of a woman for immoral purposes. KDFW-TV's law firm sent some young attorneys to Houston and began subpoenaing his business records. The lawsuit was eventually dropped.
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