A new study finds young adults who believe they may have a weight problem are more likely to receive, read, and respond to spam e-mail for weight loss products.
The products often lack a scientific basis and at times can be very dangerous to health.
“Physicians should consider discussing with patients the potential risks of opening and/or purchasing weight loss products from spam e-mails,” conclude study authors Joshua Fogel, Ph.D., of Brooklyn College and Sam Shlivko, B.S., of New York Law School.
Researchers surveyed 200 New York college students about their experience with spam e-mail related to weight loss topics. About one-third of the students said they had a weight problem; responses were then compared for participants with and without weight problems.
Eighty-eight percent of students with weight problems said they had received weight loss spam over the past year, compared to 73 percent of those without weight problems. Students with weight problems were also more likely to open weight loss spam e-mails: 42 versus 18 percent.
About 19 percent of the students with weight problems said they had bought a weight loss product from spam—as did five percent of those without weight problems.
Students with weight problems had lower self-esteem and higher perceived stress, although only the psychological factor of higher perceived stress directly affected their responses to purchasing weight loss spam.
After adjustment for other factors, students with weight problems were about three times more likely to receive and open weight loss spam and to buy the products pitched.
Health Professionals Should Discuss Risks of Responding to Spam
Spam has become a ubiquitous problem, with health and pharmaceutical topics accounting for up to one-third of all spam e-mails. Weight problems are a major concern of young people.
This study suggests college students who believe they have a weight problem are more likely to receive, open, and respond to e-mail solicitations for weight loss products.
This is of concern because the quality of products pitched by spam email range in quality from “harmless to potentially dangerous nonprescription products,” according to the authors.
They also note that some spam advertises products are meant to be sold by prescription only.
The findings also raise concern that young adults with weight problems are “apparently not seeking or not satisfied with evidence-based treatments available from physicians… or other health care providers.”
Previous studies have found that most patients using nonprescription weight loss products do not discuss these supplements with their doctors. Health care professionals should talk to patients about the potential risks of opening or purchasing products from spam e-mail, Fogel and Shlivko suggest.
“They should emphasize to their patients the importance of working together with a health care professional in coordinating care when considering the use of weight loss products.”
The study is found in the January issue of Southern Medical Journal, the official journal of the Southern Medical Association.