Consumer Czar Buzz – National Consumers League

You may have heard that,  a few weeks ago, a bunch of national public interest groups (including the National Consumers League) sent letters to Congressional leaders and President-Elect Obama calling for new pro-consumer policies that would help American consumers and workers on “pocketbook issues” and help heal our economic woes.

The groups recognized the threats against consumers’ rights and standards of living, including the mortgage meltdown, crazy high gas prices, fears about import and food safety, and unaffordable healthcare. When you think about it, things are pretty bad for us consumers these days.

One of the big things the groups (Consumer Federation of America, Consumers Union, the National Association of Consumer Advocates, the National Consumers League, the National Consumer Law Center, Public Citizen, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group) are demanding is that the new Administration put a Consumer Czar in the White House.

The groups’ demand for a Czar is starting to get a little attention: the New York Times supported it in an editorial, the Consumerist has mentioned it, and the Wall Street Journal has blogged about it.

A little history: The United States Office of Consumer Affairs (USOCA) was established by Executive Order by President Nixon. Under pressure from Congress, the Clinton Administration allowed the office to be closed. The consumer groups are calling for the office to be reinstated as it existed under the Carter Administration, the time when it was most effective.

Under the Carter Administration, the director of the Office of Consumer Affairs had regular and direct access to the President. The office gave a voice to consumers and balanced and supplemented the ever-present and extremely well funded business lobby and Department of Commerce. The office was instrumental in victories for consumers, including: energy-efficiency labels on products; a program that simplified English in government documents; consumer rights regarding overbooked airline flights; a cooperative bank that would offer low-interest loans to public-interest groups; and increased competition in the trucking industry.

No wonder these groups are calling for a Consumer Czar! Show your support for these efforts today!

Cough, Cold, and Headaches: What’s a Mom or Dad to Do? – National Consumers League

If you are the parent of a young child, chances are you’ve encountered some sniffles this winter–or will before too long. But for those who have been paying attention to the debate about cough and cold medicines and whether they are safe for fighting kids’ colds and flu, you may be as confused as ever.

NCL’s Rebecca Burkholder recently worked with our friend Helen Osborne, at the Boston Globe’s On Call Magazine, who just published an excellent article laying out the complicated issue for parents and explaining actions and information from the Food and Drug Administration. Read it here.

What consumers need to know about Rx drug substitution – National Consumers League

If you take prescription medication, there’s a good chance that someday you’ll be asked to switch from your current drug to a new one. There are many reasons, including costs to you or your insurer, changes in your insurance coverage, or new drugs coming on the market. Therapeutic substitution can offer benefits, but it can also pose risks. The key to ensuring your safety when making a switch is full transparency.

What do we mean by therapeutic substitution?

Here’s an example. Say you have acid reflux and have been taking omeprazole, a proton pump inhibitor to treat it, for several years. Because the cost of another proton pump inhibitor, lansoprazole, is less for your health insurer, your doctor is contacted by your health insurer and asked to switch you to another proton pump inhibitor, lansoprazole, in an effort to save costs.

The availabilty of another drug at a lower cost to your insurance program is one of the top reasons for therapeutic substitution. Among others:

  • Another drug is available to your insurance program at a lower cost.
  • A medication is no longer covered by your insurance program.
  • A cheaper medication is available.
  • You may be offered discount coupons on a different drug, or your doctor may be offered financial incentives for prescribing a particular drug instead of others. This is a practice that concerns some advocates, because it is important that when a switch is considered, your health is always the top priority.
  • Your doctor wants to switch you to a drug that may be more effective or a better fit for your needs.

How does therapeutic substitution happen? There are several ways:

  • Your health insurance company may contact your doctor and urge her to switch from the prescribed drug to another drug in the same therapeutic class.
  • Your health insurance company may contact you, the patient, directly to say you can save money by switching your current prescription drug (a brand name) to a generic version of a different brand name drug. The new recommended drug is in the same class as the one you’re taking, but it’s chemically different. Learn more about drug classes here.
  • Your health insurance company may call or write you to say that your current drug is no longer covered, and you should talk to your doctor about switching you to another drug in the same class that is covered. Otherwise, you’d have to pay out-of-pocket to stick with your current medicine.
  • In some health insurance plans, your doctor and pharmacist all follow the same coverage rules, which include a pre-approved list of drugs. If your doctor prescribes a certain drug that isn’t covered, your pharmacist could substitute it with one that’s on the pre-approved list. In this case, you might not find out that you’ve been switched until you go to the pharmacy.


Common therapeutic drug substitutions – National Consumers League

Therapeutic substitution, known also as drug switching and therapeutic interchange, is the practice of replacing a patient’s prescription drugs with chemically different drugs that are expected to have the same clinical effect. Many times patients switch to a different drug with no problems. However, for certain medications and conditions, therapeutic substitution could cause problems.

Consumers with a few specific conditions may be more likely than others to encounter a switch. Here are some of the conditions in which therapeutic substitutions may be more common, as well as the concerns about substitution expressed by some patient groups. As always, it is important to talk to your doctor about any potential therapeutic substitution.

In the lists of medicines, the Brand Name comes first, (and generic version is in parentheses).

Antidepressants stimulate chemical changes that increase the levels of neurotransmitters in the brain responsible for a person’s mood.

Some examples of antidepressants:
Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline), Paxil (paroxetine), Luvox (fluvoxamine), Celexa (citalopram), and Lexapro (escitalopram). Antidepressants are associated with drug groups known as MAOIs, tricyclics, and SSRIs and are commonly prescribed by psychiatrists and other physicians to treat depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental illness.

Substitution concerns:
The American Psychiatric Association, Mental Health America, National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare oppose therapeutic substitution based on the substantial risk of serious adverse outcomes in people with mental illness. These groups support policies that provide patient access to the medications their doctors think they need, and they encourage shared patient-physician decisions based on the unique needs of individuals.

Cardiovascular Medications
There are several classes of drugs used to protect your heart, monitor your cholesterol level and blood pressure, and prevent other damage.

  • ACE inhibitors are used for controlling blood pressure, treating heart failure, preventing stroke, and preventing kidney damage in people with hypertension or diabetes. They also improve survival rates in patients who have had a heart attack.
  • Examples of ACE Inhibitors include: Capoten (captopril), Vasotec (enalapril), Prinivil (lisinopril), Accupril (quinapril) and Univasc (moesxipril)
  • Statins are used to lower cholesterol levels in people at risk of developing heart disease.
  • Examples of statins include: Lipitor, Zocor (simvastatin), Crestor, Pravachol (pravastatin), Mevacor (lovastin).

Substitution concerns:
The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology oppose therapeutic substitution and believe that only the prescribing doctor is equipped to determine the best drug or combination of drugs. These organizations believe that therapeutic substitution may result in the patient receiving a drug that doesn’t work well enough, produces life-threatening toxicity, or interacts dangerously with other drugs the patient is taking.

Epileptic medications
The drugs taken by patients with epilepsy are called antiepileptic drugs (AEDs) and are designed to change the electrical signaling in the brain to stop or prevent seizures. 

Examples of AEDs include:

Dilantin (phenytoin), Luminal (phenobarbital), Tegretol (carbamazepine), Neurontin (gabapentin), Lamictal (lamotrigine), Gabitril, Keppra, and Zonegran (zonisamide).

Substitution concerns:
The Epilepsy Foundation is concerned that there are enough differences among AEDs that any kind of medication substitution, (including switching from brand-name to generic), could be dangerous, and it could result in less control over seizures. The Epilepsy Foundation says that changing from one drug formulation to another can usually be done successfully if the patient’s blood levels, seizures, and toxicity are carefully monitored, but it says any medication change must require the permission of the treating doctor and the patient.

Proton-pump Inhibitors
Patients with dyspepsia, peptic ulcer disease, or acid-reflux may be prescribed a proton-pump inhibitor (PPI), drugs that result in long-lasting reduction of gastric acid production.

Examples of PPIs include:

Prilosec (omeprazole), Prevacid (lansoprazole), Nexium.

Substitution concerns:

As with any substitution, it is important to talk to your doctor, and be aware of the benefits and risks of substitution.

Heard of the EFCA? – National Consumers League

If you haven’t, and you are lucky enough to have a job (in this crazy economy), you might want to read this.

The Employee Free Choice Act is a piece of legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007 but didn’t make it through the Senate. It’s expected to be re-introduced in the next Congress, the 111th, and it’s recently been given a major shout-out by consumer groups including the National Consumers League.

Last week, NCL and six other consumer interest groups (Public Citizen, NACA, Consumer Action, ACORN, Alliance for Justice, and Consumers for Auto Safety and Reliability) sent a letter to members of Congress urging them to support the EFCA, legislation that we believe would “strengthen consumer protections, stop predatory lending practices, and ensure that workers’ hard-earned wages go to supporting their families and communities.”

NCL supports the EFCA because looking out for workers’ rights and concerns is a central part of our founding mission of more than 100 years ago. To learn more about why we support the legislation, read the  letter to Congress here.

Consumer groups call on Congress to support Employee Free Choice Act and help rebuild the middle class – National Consumers League

December 19, 2008

Contact: 202-835-3323,

Washington, DC, December 19, 2008 — A coalition of seven consumer groups today announced their support for the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA), expected to be reintroduced in 111thCongress, to “strengthen consumer protections, stop predatory lending practices, provide remedies, and ensure that workers’ hard earned wages go to supporting their families and communities.”

In a letter to members of Congress, the groups — the National Consumers League (, the National Association of Consumer Advocates (, Public Citizen  (, Consumer Action (, ACORN (, Consumers for Auto Safety and Reliability (, and the Alliance for Justice ( — argued that the EFCA (H.R. 800, S. 1041 in the 110th Congress) legislation that passed the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007 but failed to pass in the Senate, and is broadly supported by labor unions, is good for both consumers and workers.

“Corporate greed, mass foreclosures, insurmountable consumer debt, unemployment rates, and the other symptoms of our economic crisis have made for a culture of insecurity for both consumers and workers,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of National Consumers League, a consumer group formed in 1899 to advance the interests of both consumers and workers. “As consumer organizations, we believe that it is essential to make connections between consumers and workers, especially in this economic downturn. It is in the interest of consumers to rebuild the middle class in America, and the Employee Free Choice Act is a good start. It is time for Congress to address the needs of the hardworking Americans on Main Street, not just the corporate interests on Wall Street.”

In their letter to Congress, the consumer groups argued that EFCA will help restore fairness to workers by giving them a path to union organizing, helping secure contracts in reasonable timeframes, and toughening penalties of companies who violate worker rights.

Excerpts from the letter follow:

The Employee Free Choice Act will restore the right of workers to join together to get better health care, job security, and benefits – and an opportunity to pursue their dreams. We firmly believe the Employee Free Choice Act is good for consumers, for workers, and for American society. When workers – who are also consumers – enjoy the benefits of a unionized workforce, their standard of living rises and they can participate more fully in what our economic system has to offer.

The current crisis in our financial markets shows what happens when corporate greed is allowed to go unchecked – and consumers and workers unfortunately pay the price.  The Employee Free Choice Act will help level the playing field for America’s workers by giving them a fair and direct path to form unions. Consumer groups ask for your support for this important legislation.

The Employee Free Choice Act will help restore fairness and the American dream by:

(1) Giving workers a fair and direct path to form unions through majority sign-up. EFCA would require an employer to recognize its employees’ union when a majority has signed union authorization cards.  Under current law, management can refuse to recognize a union even when 100 percent of employees have signed authorization cards.  After a majority of workers have signed cards, an employer can still call for a separate election.  Under the current system, then, the employer gets to decide whether a separate election is necessary.

(2) Helping employees secure a contract with their employer in a reasonable period of time. Under current law, anti-union employers often drag workers through lengthy negotiations by delaying bargaining sessions, withholding relevant information, and putting forth bogus proposals.  Even though these tactics are illegal, there are no effective deterrents to prevent “surface bargaining.” The Employee Free Choice Act will strengthen workers’ ability to achieve a first contract within a reasonable period of time.

(3) Toughening penalties against employers who violate their workers’ rights. Too many unscrupulous employers get away with breaking labor laws because the current penalties are too weak.  The Employee Free Choice Act would increase penalties against employers who illegally fire or retaliate against pro-union workers.


About the National Consumers League

The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit

VA LifeSmarts Making Headlines! – National Consumers League

We’re well into our 15th season of LifeSmarts, NCL’s awesome, competitive program that teaches teens (and now middle school students too!) real-life consumer skills. Our Internet-based, quiz-style format has been lighting up classrooms and after-school teams for the last few months, and many state programs are preparing to host their in-person competitions in the next couple months. In fact, the early bird state of New Jersey has already determined what team will represent their state at the 2009 National LifeSmarts Championship in St. Louis, April 25-28: the team from John P. Stevens High School in Edison, NJ.

This just in: today we ran across this article in The Roanoke Times about the Virginia state LifeSmarts program. The article includes a great quote from the Virginia State Coordinator, Celia Ray Hayhoe, who organizes the program in her role as a Virginia Cooperative Extension family resource management specialist at Virginia Tech:

“With LifeSmarts, teens learn to avoid common consumer pitfalls, navigate government, and understand credit-card jargon before they sign the dotted line,” said Hayhoe.

It’s true! LifeSmarts teaches teens how to be a savvy consumer before they have to learn those lessons the hard way, like many of their parents’ generation has. What better time than now to be giving our youngest generation of consumers a leg-up, eh?

Consumer/health groups call for change in regulation of alcohol labeling – National Consumers League

December 12, 2008

Letter to Treasury Secretary-Designate Timothy Geithner urges swift action to mandate standardized, comprehensive alcohol labels

Contact: 202-835-3323,

Washington, DC; December 12, 2008 — Even as the Obama Administration sets its sights on stabilizing and strengthening the U.S. economy, a coalition of public interest groups today called on the transition team and incoming Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner to move quickly on another matter where action by the Treasury Department is needed and long overdue: requiring mandatory, basic serving facts disclosing alcohol content per serving and the definition of moderate, or low-risk alcohol consumption on all alcoholic beverage labels.

In a letter to Secretary-Designate Geithner, four leading public interest groups — Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, National Consumers League and Shape Up America! — used the fifth anniversary of an unanswered petition originally sent to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) on December 16, 2003 to press for “meaningful change” in how the Treasury Department regulates alcohol labeling. Summarizing a record of more than 30 years of inaction by TTB and its predecessor agency, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), the organizations reported overwhelming public support for a standardized “Alcohol Facts” panel on all beer, wine and distilled spirits products listing such basic information as the serving size, calories per serving, alcohol content per serving, and the definition of a “standard drink.” Additionally, the petition sought the inclusion of the Dietary Guidelines’ definition of moderate, or low-risk, alcohol consumption on product labels. Today, alcoholic beverages are the only major category of consumable products not required to carry label information summarizing these basic characteristics of the product.

“Right now, consumers really have no way of knowing the most basic information about alcoholic beverages,” said Chris Waldrop, Director of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. “It’s time to end the confusion by giving Americans the same helpful and easily accessible labeling information that is now required for conventional foods, dietary supplements, and nonprescription drugs.”

George Hacker, Director of CSPI’s Alcohol Policies Project, called on TTB, which regulates alcohol labeling, to develop labels that will be helpful to consumers in measuring and moderating their alcohol consumption. “The Food and Drug Administration, which has administered the development of comprehensive nutrition labeling on foods and non-alcoholic beverages, has substantial expertise in constructing and designing labels that consumers will understand and use. TTB should consult with FDA and rely on its experience in generating effective consumer labels.”

Documenting the public health need for TTB action, the letter summarizes the consensus among nutrition, medical and substance abuse experts that ready access to labeling information is an important tool for reducing alcohol abuse, drunk driving, and the many diseases attributable to excessive alcohol intake. This includes the facts needed to follow the Dietary Guidelines’ advice that men who choose to drink limit their consumption to two drinks a day and that women restrict their consumption to one drink per day. As stated in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2005, the consumption of alcoholic beverages may have beneficial effects for some consumers when consumed in moderation, but alcohol is a significant source of calories and can increase the risk for hypertension, liver disease and certain cancers, as well as injury if consumed in excess.

“There is no debate within the public health and nutrition community about the need for mandatory and complete alcohol labeling,” said Dr. Barbara J. Moore, President and CEO of Shape Up America! “Today’s labeling requirements for alcoholic beverages are outdated and they don’t demonstrate the national leadership that is critically needed to address the growing epidemic of obesity.”

Due to the current lack of leadership, the organizations point to one of the consequences of not requiring consistent and comprehensive alcohol labeling: most Americans have no idea what constitutes a “standard drink,” which the Dietary Guidelines defines as 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, 5 fluid ounces of wine and 1.5 fluid ounces of 80-proof (40 percent) distilled spirits. According to a recent survey commissioned by the National Consumers League, 54 percent of Americans don’t know there is such a thing as a “standard drink,” even though a large majority of state drivers’ license manuals and national and state public health agencies use the “standard drink” definition to explain responsible drinking.

“It shouldn’t take a calculator for consumers to tell how many ‘standard drinks’ are in a particular product or to determine how much alcohol they are actually consuming,” said Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League. “On behalf of the nation’s public health and nutrition organizations, consumer advocates, leading public health officials and consumers themselves, we say it is time for the government to issue a useful final regulation requiring alcohol labeling.”

While continuing to press for a useful final regulation on alcohol labeling, the four public interest organizations are taking steps to fill the void by providing consumers with information about alcohol content and what constitutes moderate drinking. Especially during the holidays, Americans should have these facts:

  • When it comes to drinking alcohol, the old adage is true: It doesn’t matter what you drink, it’s really how much that counts. Don’t kid yourself into thinking beer or wine is “safer” or less “potent” than the “hard stuff.”
  • One of the most important tips about responsible drinking is to know how much you are drinking. So, remember, 12 ounces of regular beer has the same amount of alcohol as five ounces of wine and an ounce and a half of distilled spirits.
  • Alcohol affects women differently than men. Besides producing less of the enzyme responsible for breaking down alcohol, women generally have a lower percentage of natural body water than men, which means alcohol levels are more concentrated and women are likely to feel the effects (including the onset of alcohol-related diseases) sooner. In light of these differences, the Dietary Guidelines recommends that women consume less alcohol — up to one standard drink a day while men are advised to limit their consumption to two alcohol drinks a day
  • Sometimes the wisest decision is not to drink. This is the case if you are younger than the minimum legal drinking age, pregnant, driving or operating machinery, or simply cannot control your drinking.
    In many cases, alcohol and medications don’t mix. Always read the label to determine if the prescription medicine or over-the-counter drug carries a specific warning about consuming alcohol. If you are hosting a party, don’t over-serve alcohol and keep an eye out for anyone who may have had too much to drink and is planning to drive home. If necessary, take their keys and call a taxi. Have plenty of non-alcoholic beverage choices available.
  • The obvious tip that everybody knows but sometimes forgets: before you go out, plan how you are going to get home. Designate a driver, have a taxi number, and have money ready to pay the taxi. Whatever you do, don’t drink and drive and plan on staying sober.Whether you are a parent, family member or a friend, don’t serve to or buy alcohol for people under 21.
    Increasing public understanding of these basic health messages also requires ending the stalemate in modernizing beverage alcohol labels, which traces back to 1972, when consumer organizations first asked the federal government to require meaningful alcohol labeling. In 2003, the National Consumers League joined with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America and 75 other public health and consumer organizations to submit a formal petition to TTB. This resulted in the agency issuing an “advanced notice of proposed rulemaking” in April 2005 and receiving more than 18,000 comments, of which 96 percent supported giving consumers access to standardized and complete labeling information on beer, wine and distilled spirits labels.

TTB’s most recent action occurred in 2007 when the agency proposed a mandatory “Serving Facts” panel on beer, wine and distilled spirits but notably ignored the most important information consumers need when consuming an alcoholic beverage – alcohol content disclosure and the amount of alcohol in a serving. This resulted in another barrage of letters from consumers and public health leaders, all calling for more complete information on the label. Since the close of the public comment period in February 2008, TTB has not moved forward with issuing final regulations.


About the Center for Science in the Public Interest

Since 1971, the Center for Science in the Public Interest has been a strong advocate for nutrition and health, food safety, alcohol policy, and sound science. Founded by executive director Michael Jacobson, Ph.D. and two other scientists, CSPI has long sought to educate the public, advocate government policies that are consistent with scientific evidence on health and environmental issues, and counter industry’s powerful influence on public opinion and public policies.

About the Consumer Federation of America

Consumer Federation of America is a non-profit association of some 300 organizations, with a combined membership of over 50 million Americans. Since its founding in 1968, CFA has worked to advance the interest of American consumers through research, education and advocacy.  CFA’s Food Policy Institute was created in 1999 and engages in research, education and advocacy on food and agricultural policy, agricultural biotechnology, food safety and nutrition.

About the National Consumers League

Founded in 1899, the National Consumers League is America’s pioneer consumer organization. Its mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. NCL is a private, nonprofit membership organization. For more information, visit

About Shape Up America!

Shape Up America! was founded in 1994 by former U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop to raise awareness of the health effects of obesity and to provide responsible information on weight management to the public and to health care professionals. The organization maintains an award winning website – – accessed by more than 100,000 visitors each month and an “opt-in” e-newsletter with more than 24,000 subscribers.

Obesity survey: The disconnect between size and weight – National Consumers League

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 66 percent of U.S. adults are overweight (33 percent) or obese (33 percent) but, according to a new National Consumers League study conducted by Harris Interactive®, only 12 percent of U.S. adults say they have ever been told by a doctor, nurse, or other health care professional that they are obese. 

Following the recent announcement by RAND Corporation, which notes that the prevalence of American adults who are classified with severe or morbid obesity is increasing at a much faster rate than the prevalence of moderate obesity, the National Consumers League today is releasing troubling new survey data about consumers’ misconceptions about their weight and knowledge of weight-loss options. NCL is also announcing new Web resources for consumers who may need to lose weight but don’t know where to begin the daunting process.The survey of 1,978 adult Americans, was conducted online by Harris Interactive from March 6th to 12th, 2007. NCL has launched a new consumer education campaign, “Choose to Lose”. The new materials available at aim to help consumers overcome the overwhelming task of honestly evaluating their individual weight and work with their doctor to do something about it.

‘Obesity’: Not Admitted by Most

NCL’s new survey found a startling disconnect between the way people perceive their weight, and their actual weight category based on the body mass index (BMI), the most common measurement for obesity. U.S. adults were much more likely to refer to themselves as “overweight” rather than “obese”, and consistently identified themselves as being in less severely overweight groups.  In fact, 52 percent of respondents referred to themselves as overweight, and only 12 percent as obese, severely obese, or morbidly obese. But, based on actual BMI calculations using self-reported height and weight information, among the 96 percent of respondents who reported height and weight, 35 percent are actually “overweight,” whereas 34 percent are actually obese, severely obese, or morbidly obese. Among respondents who are obese according to BMI, 82 percent consider themselves to be simply “overweight.” Alarmingly, only a minority of all respondents (20 percent) claimed to know their BMI number.

“This discrepancy between perceived and actual weight categories suggests that the stigma associated with being obese is a powerful one; many consumers would benefit from a more realistic picture of their own weight,” said NCL President Linda Golodner. “We wanted to find out how consumers feel about their weight, their health, their need to lose pounds, and the stigma surrounding treatment options. We found that while many consumers view obesity as a legitimate disease, they don’t want to identify themselves as ‘obese.’ Weight is a highly personalized, complicated issue, and many overweight and obese consumers are in need of help.”

Perceptions about Obesity: Real Disease, Real Treatment, Real Stigma

Despite the commonly held view that obesity is a serious disease, significant levels of cultural bias persist. Most respondents (78 percent) say that obesity is a serious, chronic disease and that it requires medical treatment (54 percent). Most U.S. adults (61 percent) report, however, that obesity is considered taboo in society today, and half (50 percent) attribute the condition to a “lack of will power.” More than a third of U.S. adults (37 percent) agree that obese people should pay more for health insurance, and more than a quarter (27 percent) say that it is still acceptable to make fun of obesity. And, although many U.S. adults were accepting of many different types of treatment (more below), ranging from diet and exercise to acupuncture, there are still some negatives associated with certain options. For example, although 79 percent of respondents say weight-loss surgery can be a life-saving treatment, half (49 percent) agree that there is a stigma associated with using surgery as a weight-loss option. Moreover, forty-seven percent held a very negative or somewhat negative view of weight-loss surgery.

“There is a serious disconnect between an individual’s perception of both what it means to be overweight and the health risks of carrying extra pounds. While many consumers know that weight loss can improve the illnesses associated with excess weight, they do not have the information to separate unsubstantiated weight-loss claims from evidence-based strategies to support their weight-loss efforts,” said Madelyn H. Fernstrom, PhD, CNS, Associate Professor and founding Director of the Weight Management Center at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “Consumers need accurate information about the lifestyle changes they need to make to not only lose weight, but keep it off. Lifestyle change is the foundation of successful weight loss, but other treatment options, including prescription medications and surgery, can be added to help support—not replace—the lifestyle effort. When it comes to losing weight, one size does not fit all, and obesity treatment should be individually tailored, with careful consideration to both biological and behavioral factors.”

Personal Reflections on Weight & Weight Loss

According to findings, 64 percent of respondents are not happy with their current weight, and many say that more time to exercise (59 percent), better access to healthful foods (31 percent, and more time to cook and eat at home (31 percent) would help them achieve and maintain a healthier weight. More than three quarters (77 percent) of respondents have tried to lose weight at some point, and among these, 60 percent agree that it is one of the hardest things they have ever tried to do. Despite the attempts, many are unsuccessful at either losing weight or keeping it off. Less than a third (29 percent) of those who have ever tried to lose weight report being successful, and about a third (34 percent) have only been able to keep off the weight they lost for less than one year.

“I was fortunate to have a doctor tell me that I seriously needed to lose weight. But not all consumers who need that push from their healthcare professional get it,” said Peggy Kindler, a 51-year-old Pittsburgh, PA resident who has battled weight issues all her life. In the year since gastric banding surgery, Kindler has lost 53 pounds but continues to struggle with the challenges of weight-loss. “As someone who has experienced the very real benefits of losing a significant amount of weight, and being able to keep it off, I truly hope that these new materials for consumers at will help people recognize their weight problem, understand the weight-loss options available and motivate them to get help.”

Getting on Track for Weight Loss

About half (52 percent) of people say that they have talked about losing weight with their doctor, although respondents who are obese are more likely to have done so. Among those who have discussed weight loss with their doctor, nearly three in five (59 percent) report that their doctors recommended a diet change (47 percent) and/or exercise regimen (35 percent). However, only one third discussed the health risks associated with their weight, and only ten percent said their doctor helped them develop a plan to lose weight.

Of the weight-loss options other than regular diet and exercise discussed in the survey, respondents reported being most familiar with: organized weight loss programs (56 percent); over-the-counter medications (42 percent); weight-loss surgery (41 percent); and prescription medications (39 percent). Organized weight-loss plans also were perceived very or somewhat positively by most (69 percent) respondents, followed by counseling/psychiatry (55 percent), and intensive weight loss “camp” (45 percent). More than a third (38 percent) held a very positive or somewhat positive view of weight-loss surgery, while a third thought positively of prescription weight-loss medications (35 percent), acupuncture (34 percent), and hypnosis (33 percent).

About the Survey

The survey was conducted online within the United States from March 6 to 12, 2007 by Harris Interactive® on behalf of the National Consumers League among 1,978 adults aged 18+. According to BMI calculations out of this sample of 1,978, 25 are underweight, 528 are normal weight, 679 are overweight, 351 are obese, 164 are severely obese, 138 are morbidly obese. According to self-assessment 58 are underweight, 590 are normal weight, 1,032 are overweight, 180 are obese, 60 are severely obese, and 48 are morbidly obese. Figures for age, gender, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their respective total populations. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

With a pure probability sample of 1,978 adults one could say with a 95 percent probability that the overall results would have a sampling error of +/-5 percentage points would have a sampling error of +/-3 percentage points.  Sampling error for data from sub-samples may be higher and vary.  However, that does not take other sources of error into account. The online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

NCL thanks Allergan, Inc. for an unrestricted educational grant that made this survey and educational effort possible.



Get the Facts: Calling for Better Alcohol Labeling. Again. – National Consumers League

It’s been nearly 5 years to the day (Dec. 16, 2003) – how time flies! – since the National Consumers League first called on the federal government to get with it and do for beverages containing alcohol what it has done for other consumer products and create a standardized, mandatory labeling system. Over the years, consumers have grown to rely on Nutrition Facts and Drug Facts labels. A similar label for beverages containing alcohol seems like the next logical step, right?

An Alcohol Facts label, NCL and others have argued, would help consumers  make better decisions about their consumption of these beverages. It’s currently a bit of a mess, with alcohol content and other information difficult or impossible to find on some products. The new Alcohol Facts label would provide easy access to information about serving sizes, calories and carbohydrates, alcohol content, and more.

Seems like standardized labels on these beverages would be especially helpful this time of year, when many of us watching our waistlines wonder just what’s in that champagne, egg nog or mulled wine.

In a letter to the Department of the Treasury (the agency that redulates alcohol labeling – weird, huh?) Secretary-Designate Geithner, four leading public interest groups — Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumer Federation of America, NCL, and Shape Up America! — are pressing for meaningful change in how the Department regulates alcohol labeling. Read our letter here.