A private consultation?
The least you might expect on your first visit is for your consultation and weigh-in to take place in a private area away from other shoppers. But in five of our 20 consultations, privacy was not considered.
- One MediTrim consultant used an open area near the pharmacist.
- One Xndo consultation took place behind a screen next to shelves where shoppers were browsing.
- One Dr Tim’s Success consultant interviewed our shadow shopper at the pharmacy counter where other people were being served.
- On average, the first consultation was 40 minutes, however they ranged from a fairly brief 20 minutes for Dr Tim’s Success to about 80 minutes for Ultra Lite. Most pharmacies gave our shoppers the name of a person to keep in touch with and return to for weigh-ins, and suggested weekly follow-up visits.
Weighed and measured
Most consultations involved their weight being measured, and about three-quarters checked waist circumference, which is useful for getting an overall picture and measuring improvements. Some programs used bio-impedance scales (which send an electrical current through the body to measure the resistance of the body tissues to assess body fat).
Our panel thought these assessment methods were generally good, however they were concerned about the limited training consultants received in order to correctly interpret them.
Who will they accept?
Our experts agreed all the program consultants asked our shadow shoppers enough about their health to cover themselves but, at too many pharmacies, little more. Our shadow shoppers were asked about current medical conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, and any medications they were taking.
The majority of consultants didn’t assess family medical history, current exercise levels, usual diet and lifestyle, alcohol intake and previous weight loss methods. No program asked our shadow shoppers all of these important background questions, although Xndo did best, covering more of these issues than the other programs.
But some (Kate Morgan, Betty Baxter and two Tony Ferguson consultants) didn’t ask anything more than the basics. Most claim to screen for people with known risk factors. Those with diabetes must get their GP’s agreement, for example. However, this is no guarantee of their doctor’s ongoing input.
Most programs rightfully said they wouldn’t accept pregnant or breastfeeding women (some would only if their GP recommended it), but Tony Ferguson and Ultra Lite accept some children. Our experts described this as “disgraceful and irresponsible”, as they consider these diet strategies inappropriate for children.
Do you have to be overweight?
The experts are concerned that people who are not overweight are eligible to go on most of the diets. Of the programs that told us about their practices, only Betty Baxter and Dr Tim’s Success excluded people of normal, healthy weight from participating.
Betty Baxter allows people with a normal body mass index (BMI) to join only if they have other measures that suggest they need to lose weight, such as high body fat or waist measurement. Dr Tim’s Success is the only program limited to people who are overweight or obese.
Our "highly trained" consultants
Despite claims such as "dedicated support staff” and “trained pharmacy consultants", four of the programs provide pharmacy consultants with just three to six hours’ basic training. Of the remainder, MediTrim, Tony Ferguson, Ultra Lite and Xndo offer two-day basic training, while only Dr Tim’s Success, Tony Ferguson, Ultra Lite and Xndo and told us they require consultants to pass a test, which our experts supported.
Ongoing training is also variable, ranging from none to an additional 16 hours per year. Only three companies volunteered details of what their training covered and in all cases some of the precious time covered “marketing techniques”, “selling tips” or “overcoming objections”.
Our experts regard the level of training as grossly inadequate to deal effectively with the complex issues surrounding weight loss.
Behavioural counselling – helping people understand why they eat as they do and how to help them make permanent changes – was largely overlooked in the programs’ simplified, one-size-fits-all solutions.