Availability of weight-loss supplements: Results of an audit of retail outlets in a southeastern city

J Am Diet Assoc. 2006 Dec;106(12):2045-51. doi: 10.1016/j.jada.2006.09.014.


The sale of nonprescription weight-loss products accounts for millions of dollars spent by Americans trying to lose weight, yet there is little evidence for effectiveness and there are multiple safety concerns. The purpose of this study was to determine what products, and ingredients within products, were available at retail outlets in a metropolitan area. A purposive sampling strategy identified 73 retail outlets. An audit form was used to collect information from product labels. The audit identified 402 products containing 4,053 separate ingredients. The mean number of ingredients per product was 9.9+/-8.96 (range = 1 to 96). A database search was conducted regarding evidence for effectiveness, safety precautions, and side effects for the 10 ingredients that appeared most often across products. Modest evidence of effectiveness exists for green tea (Camellia sinensis), chromium picolinate, and ma huang (Ephedra major). For the remaining seven (ginger root [Zingiber officinale], guarana [Paullinia cupana], hydroxycitric acid [Garcinia cambogia], white willow [Salix alba], Siberian ginseng [Eleutherococcus senticosus], cayenne [Capsicum annuum], and bitter orange/zhi shi [Citrus aurantium]), inadequate or negative evidence exists. Although precautions and contraindications were found for all 10 ingredients, the strongest concerns in the literature appear for ma huang, bitter orange, and guarana. Our audit revealed numerous weight-loss products available to consumers, yet there is little evidence to support the effectiveness of the top 10 ingredients identified and many potential adverse reactions; therefore, food and nutrition professionals should discuss dietary supplement use with their clients.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Anti-Obesity Agents* / adverse effects
  • Anti-Obesity Agents* / analysis
  • Anti-Obesity Agents* / supply & distribution
  • Anti-Obesity Agents* / therapeutic use
  • Commerce
  • Dietary Supplements / adverse effects
  • Dietary Supplements / analysis
  • Dietary Supplements / statistics & numerical data
  • Dietary Supplements / supply & distribution*
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Humans
  • Obesity / drug therapy*
  • Phytotherapy
  • Plant Preparations / therapeutic use
  • Risk Assessment
  • Safety
  • South Carolina
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Weight Loss / drug effects*


  • Anti-Obesity Agents
  • Plant Preparations