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Sunday, Jan. 27, 2002

Slimming products make weighty claims

Staff writer

Some people -- generally women -- will do anything to lose weight. Slimming products range from the bizarre to the outright absurd -- from balloons that claim to raise your body temperature and burn calories when you inflate them, to rubber suction cups that promise to shrink that double chin or expunge under-eye bags when you attach them to your face. Or you could always blow a plastic slimming whistle. These whistles -- hold your breath -- are claimed to strengthen your abdominal muscles.

For those who are skeptical of such devices, the latest slimming products might appear more convincing because of their slick packaging. Over the past year, the shelves of stores and sports clubs have been piling ever higher with dietary supplements -- vitamins, herbs, minerals and botanicals in every conceivable form, from tablets to capsules, powders and liquids. But their claims may be just as dubious. Perhaps, more importantly, it's also difficult to vouch for how safe they are, and you might be better off using them only after getting some medical guidance.

Not that 33-year-old Sae Inoue (not her real name) lets any of this put her off. "If I'm doubtful about a product, I check it out on the Internet," Inoue says casually, while surveying the diet products at Tokyu Hands' Shibuya store. "I like dietary supplements, because I don't have to worry about limiting my diet or exercising." Inoue, who describes herself as "an OL at a computer company," looks thin already, but she's been trying different dietary supplements since they went on the market last year. Her favorites are the herbal teas.

On this particular day, Inoue shells out 7,800 yen on Modelish's Nat-Kali Balance, a supplement for those who want to "lose 3 kg quickly" and "get rid of swelling." A steady favorite at Tokyu Hands, the supplement's potassium content is supposed to discharge the excess water in your body. In peach and apple flavors, Nat-Kali comes in 60 individually packed sachets, to be dissolved in water and taken twice a day.

Even though it is more expensive than Nat-Kali, BOWS (Barrious Oil Wrapping System) is another supplement currently flying off the shelves. Its ingredients include vitamins, lactobacillus bifidus and plant extracts. And, of course, it claims that "even if you eat a lot, you won't gain any weight."

BOWS is claimed to prevent oil, sugar and salt from being absorbed by the body; instead, they are "flushed out." According to Aya Miura, a saleswoman at Tokyu Hands' Shibuya store, this product had many buyers during the yearend holiday season, when people overate and drank at bonenkai. The item also has regular users, especially women in their 20s.

Other popular items include Amino Style, a combination of zinc and amino acids that is claimed to burn fat, and Tahitian Noni, a fruit extract that is being marketed for people whose calorie intake is too high.

Price is no barrier in this lucrative market, and profits are huge. Since Tokyu Hands opened its section of slimming supplements, its product range has expanded to 81 brands, with a 110 percent growth in sales over the last three months.

"Items come and go very quickly," agrees Yoshiko Obikane, a purchasing manager for health and cosmetic goods at Shibuya Loft. "Nowadays, dietary supplements that can be taken easily in a short period of time are most popular, as young working women are too busy to opt for a slower, stricter diet," she says.

Now that it's nearing Valentine's Day, Shibuya Loft has set up a special corner where, bizarrely, chocolate and cake-making kits sit next to a "Fruit Power Diet" that promises you'll "feel the diet working" in 48 hours.

Not that these products will all succeed in bringing about the miracle weight-loss that makes them sell. But, it seems, that's of little concern to the hundreds of young women desperate to find their thinner selves in time for Valentine's Day.

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