When my generation was in our younger years, our parents and teachers often told us that if something looked too good to be true, it likely was. In today’s marketing environment, where we suffer a barrage of claims from traditional sources like television and radio, along with an endless stream of targeted promotions in every social media channel, that statement may ring true more than ever.

No area of marketing shows any more proof of the widespread abuses of misleading advertisement than health, fitness and weight loss. This practice has existed for years, yet has steamrolled in the last decade. In the 1960’s and 70’s, Listerine, a mouthwash, was promoted as being able to prevent and cure the common cold as well as dandruff. In 1976, the FTC found those claims to have zero credibility, and the makers of Listerine were forced to spend $10 million on ads refuting their previous claims. In the 50’s and 60’s, even cigarettes bragged of their health benefits and slimming properties, including that one brand that promoted they were the one preferred by doctors!

In the last several years, claims have accelerated with regards to weight loss. L’Occitane was ordered by the FTC to refund $450,000 to customers who purchased their skin cream that was claimed to slim the user’s body just by application, no exercise or diet plan needed. Sensa was forced to pay $26.6 million back to customers who purchased their product, which they claimed was clinically proven to cause substantial weight loss without dieting or exercise, averaging 30 pounds in six months, just by sprinkling their product on your food.

LeanSpa was fined $7 million for a product they promoted,  an acai berry and “colon cleanse”, that purported to help the user lose weight without diet or exercise. Reebok paid a $25 M fine to resolve charges that the company deceptively advertised “toning shoes,” which it claimed would provide extra tone and strength to leg and buttock muscles, just by wearing their shoes, claims that were unfounded. Skechers paid $40 M to settle similar claims. Many of these companies created websites that looked like legitimate media outlets, where their products were endorsed in a seemingly valid capacity, often showing celebrity endorsements that were fake as well. Each one of these products utilized the phrase “clinically proven” in their marketing.

So, just how can this happen? They can’t say it in an ad if it isn’t true, right? Even after all of these fines and court findings, we are still besieged with ads for products with similar claims. If you’ll notice, most of these products have a disclaimer at the end, something like “these claims have not yet be evaluated by the FDA”. With the number of new products required testing and evaluation, the FDA may take several years to properly test these products, so the manufacturers and sellers have a window to market with impunity. They will eventually be caught and punished, but the lure of big and easy money convinces many to risk it.

Is there ANY valid shortcut to fitness, healthiness or weight loss? There’s probably no better answer than the one TV’s Dr. Oz, who has been associated with numerous “lose weight quickly and easily” products, provided when he was grilled in the U.S. Senate about products he directly or indirectly endorsed. “Do you believe there’s a miracle pill out there?” asked Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee that invited Oz. “There’s not a pill that’s going to help you long term lose weight without diet and exercise,” Oz said. Two other subjects in the discussion took even stronger positions. “American consumers unrealistically yearn for a magic bullet, and unscrupulous marketers will take advantage of these desires,” said C. Lee Peeler, vice president of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “People want to believe you can take an itty-bitty pill to push fat out of your body,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told Oz. But “the scientific community is almost monolithically against you.”

When all is said and done, one must burn around 3,500 more calories than is taken in to burn a single pound of body fat. The math doesn’t lie, and no product on the market can bypass the science behind how our bodies function and change. Exercise and a smart, healthy eating plan are the only proven answers to the question “How can I lose weight and get fit?”