It is not everyday that a conscientious consumer protection advocate strikes a decisive blow against the peddlers of snake oil. Today is just such a day, Dr Harris Steinman is the man leading the fight against the forces of darkness. The evil army, in this instance, is a proudly South African company called Planethoodia.
I will start off with an explanation of what Hoodia is and the claims which are made regarding it’s supposed effects on the human body. We will then examine the way in which Planethoodia markets their weight loss gel in the hopes that it will help you to make sound decisions in the future.
What exactly is Hoodia?
Hoodia is a genus of 13 species of flowering cactiform plants found in the Namib Desert, with a range from central Namibia to southern Angola. In recent years a specific species, Hoodia gordonii, has been marketed as a weight loss tool.
A few minutes spent browsing the internet yields various claims for the effects of Hoodia on the human body, including;
- Appetite suppression
- Reduction of cravings
- Increases energy levels
- Enhances mood
- Reduces gastric acid
One website even claims that hoodia can do all of these wonderful things for your body with absolutely no side effects, the chances are that a product which has no side effects on your body will have No real effects either.
The biggest single problem which I have with the claims made for Hoodia is that there is absolutely no published scientific data to substantiate them. There is one study briefly mentioned in which Dr Richard Goldfarb conducted a study on seven people and found it effective.
Yes, Dr. Goldfarb’s study did yield positive results. However, it was never published in any medical journal, nor was it presented at a medical meeting. The only place you can read about this study is in your local You magazine. This is not how science is done. Dr. Goldfarb’s study needs to be published in a medical journal so that other scientists can review the protocols used in order to make sure that the results were not influenced by other variables. If the protocols were flawed, we would very quickly know about it, but because the study was never published, it can never be peer reviewed and thus it is worthless.
The companies marketing Hoodia have,when faced with a complete lack of testable evidence, turned to a trusty favorite; the appeal to authority. I see it over and over again;
Hoodia was eaten as a fresh food by the San tribe for thousands of years with ZERO side effects.
This plant has worked for the tribes of South Africa for centuries, now let their secret work for you!
The appeal to authority is a well known (and well used) logical fallacy. Every time you see an advert on TV which tells you that “Doctors recommend” a product, or you should use Superduper washing powder because your grandmother and her grandmother used it, you are witnessing an appeal to authority. This argument is used by people who want to convince you of something, but have no evidence for their argument. You should always be sceptical of someone who uses this argument, especially when they are trying to get you to give them some of your money.
I think that this is a good time to have a look at Planethoodia’s website. The South African Advertising Standards Authority has recently instructed Planethoodia to remove claims on their website that there is scientific evidence for the efficacy of their Slender Gel product. Planethoodia is further required to;
indicate in its advertisements that claims relating to the product’s efficacy are supported to varying degrees by the participants of a four-week product test,
Planethoodia did this, but you have to wade through acres of wild claims, images of all the local magazines in which it has had it’s product advertised (all of which are popular women’s magazines, not a respectable journal in sight), lots of very sciency sounding words, a great big blue “BUY NOW” button and you finally find a line in 3pt vanishing type face right at the bottom of the page;
* ALL CLAIMS FOR EFFICACY OF HOODIA SLENDER GEL ARE BASED PURELY ON ANECDOTAL CONSUMER FEEDBACK DATA
That’s it, that is all th judgment by the ASA has been able to achieve. Personally I think that this is insulting. I am very glad to see that the ASA can be effective, however I feel as though the end result is mediocre at best. Anyone seriously interested in Hoodia is going to click the “Buy now” button and never see the disclaimer. I would like to see the ASA push Planethoodia to state the disclaimer in clear typeface far, FAR, further up in the ad. Think it’s going to happen?
Edit: My side-kick has pointed out to me that I misidentified the logical fallacy above as an argument from authority when the practice of appealing to ancient knowledge and tradition is more accurately described as the Appeal to tradition.