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Weight loss on the Web: Where to turn for advice

Many consumers are logging on to the Web for weight-loss advice, but some diet sites are more helpful than others, according to new ratings by Consumer Reports WebWatch and the Health Improvement Institute.

In the spring of 2006 reviewers assessed the 20 most-trafficked diet sites on a range of criteria, such as ease of use and clear disclosure of sponsorship policies. They also evaluated the sites' self-help programs to see, for example, if they supplied relevant details, relayed all costs at the outset, and included useful self-management tools.

Here's how some of the sites' self-help plans stack up, according to the WebWatch report. (While evaluations were current at the time they were made, it's possible that a Web site may have been updated since.)

The weight-loss potential of the diets themselves was not evaluated, but Consumer Reports has rated diets on the basis of clinical evidence and nutritional content; see "Rating the Diets" (available to ConsumerReports.org subscribers) for more information.

Very good. A fee-based interactive program asks you what you eat and estimates the number of calories you consume in a day before offering suggestions for improvement.

The Biggest Loser Club
Good. An extension of NBC's reality show of the same name, it has detailed exercise information and helpful tools. But there's no real way to evaluate diet effectiveness, and cautions for people with health conditions are buried in the small print of the terms.

Good. It lists several diet plans, but none are covered in depth and there are no cautions or information about typical results that consumers can expect.

The Sonoma Diet
Good. Based on the book The Sonoma Diet, this site is a comprehensive aid to weight loss with a meal planning tool that includes recipes and shopping lists. But the site fails to mention the role of exercise and has no guidelines on ideal weight.

The South Beach Diet
Good. The site offers coaching, diet self-help intervention, and some discussion about risks.

Good. The site offers two variations of the Weight Watchers plan with clear and understandable criteria, though information on program costs and outcomes comes up short.

Light 'n Fit
Fair. The site, which promotes Dannon products, offers a diet plan, but it provides little detail and consumers have no way to evaluate its effectiveness.

Poor. The site's main focus appears to be selling TrimLife products, but there are some recipes and tips as well as forums that offer weight-loss support.

For details on these sites, and others that offer more general information about obesity and weight control, go to www.healthratings.org.

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