Healthy shake or a big mistake?

A company behind a multi-billion pound “nutrition” scheme is under fire over the claims it makes about health benefits and staff claiming they are “health and well-being coaches” despite having no appropriate qualifications.

In the last quarter of 2020, Herbalife Nutrition grew approximately 22% – with a net worth of £4.8 billion. On their website they claim: “If you are looking to lose weight, manage your weight or just improve your general health, Herbalife will work for you”. This statement is supported by individuals, who sell and distribute the products.

The company markets shakes, protein bars and meal replacements through a pyramid scheme. Top level members recruit individuals to pay an upfront cost, who recruit and create their own teams. This gives the original distributors a portion of the fees from their members, plus the people beneath them.

Abigail Williams, 19, a dental nurse from Chatham, Kent started in the business around three months ago and has rocketed through the ranks. Abigail often uses her social media to promote the products, describing the company as a “community”. She said: “I didn’t realise how unhealthy I was until I started these products.”

However, some argue the company is not all it is cracked up to be, believing it is just a pyramid scheme trapping people into buying – thinking they will lose lots of weight. Peta Bee, an award-winning health and fitness journalist, said she has always been “sceptical” about the company. She remembers first seeing the products in the late 1980s and believes they are not dangerous but neither a solution for longer term weight-loss ambitions. “These products are being sold to vulnerable people as a cure-all for weight and health problems with very little scientific evidence and backing,” she said.

Although not proven, some studies suggest the products cause liver damage, although the ingredient responsible has not been identified. Whilst there is no legal meaning behind “health and well-being coaches”, some still think the term is misleading. Critics say this is perhaps a particularly careful choice of words by Herbalife Nutrition, in order to entice people in.

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