Let’s take a moment to mourn Jacqueline Henson, whose inquest this week revealed that she had died after drinking a huge amount of water as she tried to follow the LighterLife diet. Heartbreaking evidence concerning the circumstances of her death were provided by her husband Brian, who said that the diet had been going brilliantly, "she loved it because she was losing weight. She was over the moon." On the night she died, Jacqueline’s 18 year-old daughter Chantelle found her unconscious.
This is not the first time that LighterLife have been implicated in a death. Matilda Callaghan died of a heart attack after living on LighterLife’s very low calorie diet for six months. One death might be described as a tragic accident, but two is plain careless.
In both cases LighterLife denied any liability. Regarding Ms Henson a spokeswoman claimed that the company states clearly how and when water should be drunk. As for Ms Callaghan, LighterLife boss Bar Hewlett told the inquest that "Miss Callaghan had been obese since the age of 12 and could have died at any time." She made a longer refutation in an open letter after the case was heard. Apologies for the vile blog I have linked to.
Despite their claims of innocence, there is a growing body of evidence against LighterLife, as reported by the BBC and the devil’s Daily Mail; Jacqueline Henson’s sister has also hit out at the company. And then there’s TOAST, secretly funded by LighterLife as a supposedly independent anti-obesity charity, and promoting their programmes, whilst also in receipt of government cash.
In any other sector, except perhaps the arms trade, it would be astounding that a company with this kind of record would have any credibility left. Weight Loss businesses are a law unto themselves, however, and LighterLife continues to enjoy good business. As well as sponsoring 2007’s Guild of Health Writers Awards, they also benefit from the UK’s lack of regulation in the counselling and psychotherapy industry. LighterLife recruits counsellors through the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy’s magazine, Therapy, which is available to the organisation’s members. LighterLife’s counsellors are trained and accredited with the BACP, who are playing an instrumental role in the development of an official UK register of therapists which is likely to be introduced within the next few years. Accreditation and BACP membership means inclusion on that register. Nobody seems to think that this is a problem, even though it is questionable, given the evidence cited above, whether LighterLife adheres to the BACP’s ethical framework.
One would think that companies that push very low calorie diets would be unsustainable because the products and practises they promote are doomed to failure and are really risky. Yet I’m stunned to see that Optifast is still a viable brand, as is Slimfast, and LighterLife also keeps popping right back up, despite the various PR disasters. How long can they go on? How many more deaths will there be?