Can you sue when weight loss programs don’t work?

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“Lose 7 pounds in 10 days! Guaranteed!” The weight-loss programs you see advertised across the media landscape can and do work, but they’re not magic and they often don’t come cheap. If you invested hundreds of dollars on a sounds-too-good-to-be-true plan but didn’t reach your weight-loss goal, whose fault is it?

Can money buy weight loss?

Weight Watchers is currently the target of a class action lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, according to the New York Daily News. The company, which claimed that its mobile app “has it all (and does it all) so you can lead a healthier, more active life,” allegedly didn’t come through on its promises to provide weight tracking, motivation, and advice via mobile devices.

More than 1.5 million subscribers paid $49.95 for the first three months and $19.95 per month thereafter to access the new app. Weight Watchers acknowledged problems with “certain aspects of technology,” but has yet to issue any refunds—hence the lawsuit.

When it’s not about technological glitches

“Technical difficulties” like those encountered by the users of the Weight Watchers app are easy to prove in court. But the average person who’s shelled out money only to be disappointed by his or her results on Nutrisystem, Jenny Craig, or any other weight-loss program doesn’t have such a clear-cut case. Many a hopeful consumer walks away lighter in their wallet but not on the scale.

“Infomercials attract people with promises of fast and easy weight loss, yet their advertisements nearly always feature before-and-after photos of someone whose asterisked name quietly indicates that the results are ‘not typical,’” says motivational speaker Cari De La Cruz, who opted instead to become a member of what she calls the “Gastric Bypass Class of 2007.”

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De La Cruz explains that many people will begin a program believing that their results will also be non-typical and that they will soon look like the person touting it. Others have lower expectations but still feel they’ll be at least better off when they’re “done.” To all of these individuals, the investment seems like a risk worth taking.

Your weight-loss success, generally speaking, is up to you

“Whatever the case, each person who joins the program will do so because they believe that by following the program, they will lose weight,” she says. The problem is that the “program” still comes down to self-management. The weight-loss company can provide food, meal plans, exercise tips, and the works, but it cannot make you apply these things correctly to your own life.

Legal professional George Anev says there is very little accountability as to the effectiveness of programs such as Nutrisystem or Weight Watchers. “This is because their creators legally exclude liability by stating that there are simply too many variables among customers,” he says.

If two individuals follow the same weight-loss program exactly as it’s intended, but one individual has a faster metabolism than the other, then their results will not be the same. Even if all things were equal, and all bodies responded to weight-loss programs in the same way, it would still be difficult to prove in court that an individual did or did not follow the program as prescribed.

A car company is not to blame for its customers’ irresponsible driving habits. A laptop manufacturer is not held accountable when a customer mishandles the unit (or even when the customer simply chooses to not plug it in)! In this vein, it seems equally as unreasonable to blame Nutrisystem for its customers’ inability to follow the program as designed for best results.

“It is a very rare person who will not lose weight by following a healthy weight-loss program,” says De La Cruz, “but it’s a very typical person who will not lose weight by not following a healthy weight-loss program.”