Electronic Ab Belts 2
According to the Federal Trade Commission, a U.S. government agency tasked to protect the rights of consumers, a typical infomercial for fitness equipment will invariably feature fitness professionals who tout the products efficacy, user testimonials, photos of models sporting trim, sculpted midsections, and purported expert opinions from health care professionals. Infomercials for the three top-selling electronic ab belts, Fast Abs, AB Energizer, and AbTronic, are no different.
But how sure are you that all these assertions are real? Okay, so you know in your heart that the fitness pros and models are being paid. Why else would they appear on the show? But you may fall for the testimonials and think to yourself that they wouldn’t dare claim to have scientific research to back them up if it weren’t true. Well, the truth is a little more complicated than that.
Very few of us have the time or the resources to really investigate whether these things are true or not. And if you are like most consumers, you hope it is true because you want to achieve the look of the models without having to actually do the work involved.
Ever since the FTC came out last month charging Fast Abs, AB Energizer, and AbTronic with making false claims, U.S. TV networks and newspapers have been doing some investigation on their own. Here’s what they found out.
Not many people have done 600 sit-ups in ten minutes so it’s hard to prove this claim. One person who would be in a position to judge this is triathlete Frank Sokol who holds the world’s record for doing more than 52,000 consecutive sit-ups. In an interview with Dr. Mike Rosen of CBS, he said that while an already toned and fit person could see minimal effects with the machines, the commercials grossly exaggerate the benefits. “Not a lot of people have done 600 sit-ups or crunches in a 10- minute period, I have, it’s not the same thing”.
Liz Crenshaw of Consumer Reports asked exercise physiologists Dana Phares and Josef Brandauer of the University of Maryland to analyse the same claim. They both told her that the electronic ab belts only gave a superficial and localized contraction as opposed to a real crunch, where you feel the whole abdominal area contracting. After using the belt for ten minutes, Crenshaw asked if they felt like they had done 600 sit- ups. Phares answered, “Absolutely not. I didn’t feel like I did one sit-up”.
Research done by Dr. Gad Alon at the same university is what AbTronic uses to support their claims. Alon told Good Morning America’s consumer correspondent Greg Hunter that the AbTronic commercials took his findings out of context. He told NBC that AbTronic had never contacted him, that the research comes from work done in the mid-80s and that what AbTronic says in the infomercial has nothing to do with studies he or the university conducted.
Alon said, “In fact, we have used electrical stimulation on abdominal strengthening in a number of studies and that particular one that is used by AbTronic does not look at all like the type of strengthening we do with electrical stimulation”.
What Dr. Alon means is that while rehabilitation specialists strengthen muscles of injured or weak patients with electrical stimulation, this is not the same as giving someone the washboard or six-pack look.
Dr. Julio Garcia is a Las Vegas plastic surgeon who appeared in the AbTronic infomercial saying, “The nice thing about the AbTronic system is you don’t have to go to a gymnasium where you have to do weight-lifting exercises, where we may have some other medical problems that prevent from doing that – whether it’s high blood pressure or bad joints”.
It seems like the good doctor is now singing another tune because he told ABC News that although electronic stimulation can help maintain muscle tone, it will not help people lose weight. He also said that the AbTronic commercial took some of his words out of context, and that the machine alone cannot help a person lose weight, lose inches and gain muscle definition.
Garcia said, “It was my intent to talk about many things together – diet, exercise, and the machine. It has apparently been portrayed as just a machine itself. And that’s not what I was there to talk about.”
I’m not surprised to hear that infomercials sometimes take the words of experts out of context to suit their own agendas. A few years ago, I was in the audience listening to a lecture by Dr. Robert Girandola of the Southern California University when someone asked him why he was on the infomercial of Oxycise, which claims that special breathing exercises will make you thin. He said that he was taken out of context and they made it appear that doing Oxycise was better than exercising on a stationary bike.
No wonder many well-respected scientists don’t want to be interviewed or have nothing to do with infomercials. During this year’s International Health Racquet & Sports Association, I was told that to appear on an infomercial meant the kiss of death if you were a credible fitness professional. Because so many infomercials employ deceptive methods to sell their products, to be associated with them meant that you had sold out.
This doesn’t mean that there aren’t effective and worthwhile fitness products that are sold via infomercials. But sometimes even the good ones use exaggerated claims so that consumers will rush to place their orders. If you buy the product with realistic expectations, then well and good, that’s your personal choice. But if you buy the product because you believe in the far- out claims, then you have been fooled into buying something that you probably wouldn’t have if you knew the truth. In my book, that’s called deception.
Other deceptive practices of infomercials in general are using models to portray fitness or medical experts making you believe that you are listening to the actual person. One such locally produced infomercial does just that. The model, an American expat married to someone I know, is dressed in a white coat with a stethoscope over his shoulder. Is this legal?
Another locally produced infomercial goes a step further. A lady they use for a testimonial says that she lost pounds and inches, has never tried the product and was paid to say those lines. Not only that, they give her another name on the screen. I know about this because I know the person concerned.
It’s examples like these that make me question whether the testimonials or expert opinions they use for infomercials are legit or not.
Meanwhile, here are some studies on electrical stimulation that the infomercials don’t want you to know about. A study done by Dr. John Porcari of the University of Wisconsin found that after eight weeks, the participants experienced no change in weight or fat loss. The conclusion was that devices were “ineffective, time-consuming and at times even painful”.
A Utah State University study that was presented at the 1997 American College of Sports Medicine conference found no significant changes in the weight, body fat or measurements of the participants. The Utah researchers stated that electronic stimulation “may strengthen muscles to a point, but probably will not help individuals lose weight, lose fat or change their basic body dimensions”.
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