I 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?
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,
I.. I just…oh good grief. I reached out again.
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.
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,
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!
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:
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”
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.
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
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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