In an investigation of well-known diet clinics, Choice says it has uncovered some aggressive sales tactics and bizarre advice being given to clients.
Choice’s shadow-shop included weight loss chains Weight Watchers, Cohen’s Lifestyle Clinic, Jenny Craig and Weight Control Doctor. Information given by each company to the shadow shoppers during their consultations was assessed by independent medical experts in weight management and related illnesses.
“We were struck by the aggressive sales tactics that some of the diet clinics used. The main priority seems to be to sign people up and get their money rather than devising a credible weight loss plan that will help them,” says Choice spokesperson Ingrid Just.
The medical experts were alarmed by factually incorrect and poor clinical assessments given to Choice’s shadow shoppers at Weight Control Doctor, a clinic headed by Dr Sandra Cabot; author the bestselling book The Liver Cleansing Diet.
In one case, the consultant diagnosed a shopper with thyroid and adrenal problems, an assessment subsequently shown to be wrong in blood tests conducted by a GP.
One of Choice’s experts, Dr Sam Hay, said advice given by a Cohen’s Lifestyle Clinic consultant bordered on being “irresponsible, misleading and negligent”. The consultant discouraged exercise, opting instead for a rapid weight-loss diet. Cohen’s use of terms like ‘obesity syndrome’ was also criticised by the experts, as the condition does not exist.
Choice said it was disappointed with the hard sell the shadow shoppers received at Weight Watchers, which operates on a points system for different foods. The consultant did not check on medication or medical problems and did not place enough importance on the need for daily exercise.
Belinda Dimovski, Director of Weight Watcher’s Australiasia’s Operations said she was disappointed with the Choice report.
“We conduct almost 70,000 meetings per year in Australia, and the Choice findings do not represent the typical Weight Watchers experience. More than 98 per cent of our members say they would recommend us to their friends.”
“We have been in contact with Choice to gather further information from the report; from our conversations with them we understand the Weight Watchers program and its approach to weight loss are held in high regard. We intend to share all the information with our leaders and use the findings to review our sign-up processes,” said Dimovski.
Despite having some questions about advice given to a shadow shopper in relation to BMI (Body Mass Index), Choice’s experts were generally impressed with the approach used by Jenny Craig consultants. The clinic rated well when it came to addressing health concerns, advice, options and a clear discussion of commitment and cost.
“While our experts didn’t agree with all advice given by Jenny Craig, they were impressed by the clarity of information, the care taken to find out the person’s medical history and the absence of aggressive sales tactics,” says Ms Just.
Choice says, before signing up with a diet clinic, people should talk to their GP first.
“Your doctor can do a thorough health assessment and run necessary tests. If you are keen on a program, check its credentials and make sure the consultant's advice is in line with what your doctor tells you,” says Ms Just.
What's your experience of diet clinics?