Fat Burners, Social Media, and Biased Health Advice

Fat Burners, Social Media, and Biased Health Advice

Guess how many emergency department visits are related to the adverse effects of dietary supplements?

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine collected data from 63 emergency departments over a span of 9 years, and estimates the number to be near 23,000.  With this in mind, it is concerning seeing the following biased health advice in today’s news feed: “When I prepare for photoshoots and want to get my leanest, I take these (insert “fat-burning” supplement list) made by my sponsor…”

Unfortunately, this statement is untrue and not supported by good science. Weight-loss supplements with little to no evidence did not make the difference and are among the leading culprits for causing harm.  A significantly lowered caloric intake focused on reduced carbs + high protein combined with increased cardio made the difference.

Concerning is this sponsored message is coming from a well-known name in fitness with faithful followers keen to emulate their health choices. People read it, buy the pills expecting the same physique, when in reality, it is genetics combined with consistent HABITS and NUTRITION achieving results.  Years and often decades of diligent work is the foundation of an elite physique, not an over-the-counter supplement.  Keep in mind that in addition to having little efficacy, there are multiple reports of fat-burning supplements causing organ failure, for example here, here and here.  Even high doses of seemingly benign substances such as green tea extract have been shown to cause harm.  The positive effects are not nearly as clear as promoters claim and are still subject to debate in the literature.  An industry driven fast growth rate, combined with few regulations leaves many fat-loss supplements with little to no evidence to back up their claims.

I would rephrase the above advertisement with: “My fat-loss heavily relies on previously established habits of meal preparation and regular exercise.  When I need to shed fat while preserving muscle, I reduce my caloric intake, mainly by reducing carbohydrate consumption outside of training, combined with a high protein diet, and efficient strength training.  There are many ways to shed fat and keep it off, this is simply the approach that works best for me.  The supplements I list here have little science to support they do anything, however, my sponsor has asked me to promote them via social media.”

If health advice finishes with a sales pitch for a “quick-fix” supplement and sounds too good to be true, it is too good to be true.


Aric Sudicky is a former Canadian Fitness Professional of the Year, senior medical student, and researcher in lifestyle-related disease.  Current projects include the Prevention Rx public health initiative and innovative Canadian medical education curriculum in exercise and nutrition. You can follow Aric via his facebook or twitter pages.