Weight Loss Supplements Marketed to Military Are Often Mislabeled

Most dietary supplements that claim to aid with weight loss contain ingredients not listed on their label, new research suggests.

It’s easy to find a plethora of dietary supplements promising quick and easy weight loss online, many of which are specifically marketed and discounted to military members. However, new research indicates that most of these products are mislabeled — containing risky, poor quality, and even illegal ingredients without disclosing so on the label.

The research, published in JAMA Network Open this week, aimed to determine whether select dietary supplements marketed for weight loss that offer military discounts were accurately labeled according to the Supplement Facts listed ingredients on product labels.

Researchers conducted the case series study by analyzing 30 dietary supplement products purchased from online companies that advertised and offered military discounts for products that made claims about their weight loss effects.

Of these 30 products, the researchers found that 24 had ingredients listed on the label that were not detected in the product; seven had hidden components not included on the label, some of which greatly decreased the quality of the supplement; and 10 had substances on the DoD Prohibited Dietary Supplement Ingredients List either on or hidden from the label — a list of substances from which service members are prohibited from taking.

All 30 products were rated as risky when applied to the OPSS Scorecard, an educational tool developed to help consumers determine whether a product carries health risks based on the claims on its label.

“Fraudulent marketing of weight loss supplements, some with exaggerated claims, some that are potentially dangerous, and some that contain illegal ingredients, is ever present,” the authors wrote, “especially through online sources, where multiple manufacturers target service members by offering military discounts.”

As weight loss supplements grow in popularity, more reports are emerging of their harmful effects — including reports of liver failure, kidney impairment, and worsening of chronic ailments.

A 2021 review published in the journal Obesity found minimal evidence that these supplements actually lead to weight loss.

The authors said their findings suggest that predatory marketing combined with the low quality of weight loss supplements pose a threat to both military members and the general public, endangering their health, career, and financial stability. Currently, they said the only way to know the actual ingredients in a supplement is to ensure it has been tested by an independent third-party organization, testing which they found that none of the 30 products had undergone.

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