Impact of FDA's Actions on the Online Market and Marketing of Herbal Weight-loss Products
Herbal weight-loss products that are available online have drawn regulatory attention because of their health benefit claims and safety issues. The objectives of this study were to examine 1) the effects of FDA-issued alerts on the availability of the herbal slimming products identified as unsafe; 2) the marketing practices of the warned products and those of products using warned products as reference. The FDA issued alerts for 72 herbal weight-loss products in 2009. The FDA websites were searched using key words (e.g., 'Slimburn') to examine their availability and marketing practices of these sellers. Many of the alerted products were withdrawn soon after the issue of the warnings. Interestingly, some are still available on the Internet with the same or a closely-related name (e.g., Perfect Slim USA) even though the product had reportedly been recalled. A few of these products were purchased. Some products appear to maintain their own websites (i.e., same name) while others sell through third-party vendors or are cloned to a similar product (e.g., 'Slim Burn' is cloned as “Slim Tone'). In addition to maintaining the brand name, some products lay claims the veracity of which needs to be established. For example, 'Zhen De Shou claims 'outcome of clinical trial' meets FDA requirements. Some websites appear to review herbal weight loss products and provide authentic recommendations about best weight-loss products. For example, one website truthfully highlights tainted products while recommending new products. Whether these products maintain good quality or cause any public health concerns needs to be addressed.