Consumers are wasting billions of pounds on 'quack' foods that promise to help them lose weight, a nutritional expert has warned.
New legislation must be enforced to prevent the deception, Prof Michael Lean, of University of Glasgow said, as the marketing of food stuffs do not face the same stringent controls as medicines.
Writing in the British Medical Journal online, he said marketing foods as 'low fat' and 'helps lower cholesterol' have to be substantiated under current rules and labelling foods as preventing or treating disease is illegal, but 'huge numbers' of such claims are still being made overtly or implied.
Prof Lean wrote: "Unscrupulous trading is most commonly linked to obesity. In 2000, $35bn (£22bn; €28bn) was spent in the United States on weight loss products. Many of these products use false and unsubstantiated claims, enticing seven per cent of the entire population to buy them every year."
He said only appropriate diets, exercise, licensed drugs such as orlistat and sibutramine along with bariatric surgery which includes stomach stapling and gastric bands, are safe and effective. Prof Lean hopes new European Union (EU) Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices, adopted this year in UK, will finally protect vulnerable consumers who are tricked into to buying useless food products or supplements in attempts to combat their disease.