If you’re determined to take control of your fitness and lose weight this year, Better Business Bureau has advice that can help you evaluate fitness clubs, gyms or weight-loss programs to avoid scams and find reliable businesses.
Consumers filed more than 12,800 complaints last year against fitness centers and health clubs, including 121 complaints filed with St. Louis BBB. Many of the complaints were about centers that closed abruptly or that refused to provide refunds to consumers who moved or were dissatisfied with the club’s programs or hours.
BBB also received more than 10,000 complaints about weight control services and health and diet products. Common complaints included never receiving products ordered, results that were not as advertised or products that caused an adverse reaction.
The Federal Trade Commission last year levied millions of dollars in fines against weight loss and fitness firms and collected refunds for thousands of consumers who were defrauded by companies who advertised weight-loss or fitness products. The agency estimates that consumers spent $2.4 billion on weight-loss products and services in 2013, the most recent year that statistics are available.
“Consumers who want to lose weight or improve fitness should be commended for their resolve and assisted in their efforts, not fleeced by companies that make unsubstantiated claims,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB president and CEO. “BBB is determined to help consumers find trustworthy businesses to meet their needs and to resolve complaints against companies.”
Misunderstandings about contract terms are common with fitness and weight loss programs. Consumers need to ask questions and read contracts carefully to be sure they know how to cancel, what kind of notice is required and whether the gym will refund the unused portion of a contract. Some contracts automatically renew unless you cancel.
Before starting a weight-loss program, BBB advises consumers to consult a doctor for an assessment of overall health risks. The doctor may recommend options for losing weight or exercise programs that fit your health status and your ability to stick with a program.
If your doctor prescribes a medication to assist in weight loss, ask about complications or side effects. Tell the doctor about other medications or over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements you may be taking, and report any changes you experience after taking the medication to the doctor.
Before you invest in diet or fitness plans or products, BBB offers these eight tips:
- Avoid products that claim to help you lose weight without diet or exercise. Doctors, dietitians and other experts agree that losing weight takes work. Pass up any product that promises miraculous results without any effort.
- Be skeptical of claims that you don’t have to give up favorite foods or reduce the amount you consume. Try filling up on healthy vegetables and fruits so you can resist high-calorie treats. However, eliminating all your favorites could set you up to fail. It’s better to limit portion size or how frequently you indulge.
- Determine your fitness goals. It’s hard work to lose weight, and you need to find a program you can stick with, and preferably one that you enjoy. Find a health club or exercise facility that is convenient and that offers times that fit your schedule.
- Visit the facility before joining. Check on cleanliness, adequacy of space, machines and instructors. Ask if you can try the facility out before you join. If the facility closes, can you transfer your membership to another facility?
- Consider your budget. Ask the health club about “joining” or enrollment fees and ongoing monthly costs. Does a weight loss plan require you to buy special foods? Can you cancel if you move or find that the program doesn’t meet your needs?
- Read the entire contract. Does it list all services, facilities and hours of operation? Is everything the salesperson promised included in the contract? What’s included in the monthly fee and what will cost you extra? What is the total cost, including enrollment fees and finance charges?
- Understand your rights to cancel your contract. Missouri and Illinois laws give consumers the right to cancel a health club contract within three days of signing it. The law says three business days, but if the facility is open on the weekends, those days may count as business days.
- Check with BBB before you sign a contract. Anyone can check a company’s BBB Business Review at www.bbb.org or by calling (314) 645-3300 during business hours. Reviews include the firm’s complaint history and whether the complaints were resolved.