Saturday, December 25, 2010

Power balance bracelets are a scam

That's a headline that greeted me on Facebook this morning. It appears that the agency in Australia that parallels our FDA has made the company that makes them stop claiming they increase power, flexibility and balance. (Our own FDA has done nothing, by the way.)

I'm not surprise, honestly.

My first encounter with the Power Balance bracelet was at Ironman AZ. They had a booth at the Expo and I like to give everyone at triathlon expos some attention and possible patronage as a thank you for supporting my sport. I asked the gal about her product and she said that the hologram in the bracelet worked with our body's natural energy field to increase balance and power. She said nothing about flexibility. She also said nothing about something in the bracelet emitting a frequency that worked with our body's magnetic field. Apparently that's normally part of the sales pitch.

If she had said those things, I'm pretty sure I would have made a face and walked away. But she didn't so I allowed her to do a demonstration on me. She had me stand on one leg and hold out my arm and then she pushed on my arm and I went down. Then she had me hold the bracelet, still in its package, and redid the test. This time she wasn't able to budge me more than a little.

I was impressed and when I found out the bracelet only cost $30, I bought one.

Later on I started thinking about it and realized that maybe she hadn't push as hard the second time. So I repeated the test on a few friends and family members and it worked the same way with most of them. I was still perplexed as to how it could work, but armed with evidence that it did, I wore the bracelet for a few day including during my race.

I also went to the company's website to get a better idea of what was going on that made it work. I clicked on the link labeled "science" and all it said was the same thing that the sales gal said. There wasn't anything remotely scientific there at all. I was annoyed.

At some point later the bracelet didn't match my outfit so I took it off, put it in a drawer, and promptly forgot about it.

So when I saw the articles saying it was fake, as I said, I wasn't surprised. But what about the test? It really seemed to work. By reading the comments after some of the articles I learned the following:

1) People on the internet can be real supercilious jerks
2) Some people actually paid $60 for this thing!
3) The company owners freely admit that there is no evidence that their product does anything
4) Most people don't understand the placebo effect
5) If you hold anything in your hand, it improves your balance

Aha! It seems that it isn't wearing the bracelet that gives a better result -- it was that I had the box in my hand. Anything in my hand would give the same result. In fact, wearing the bracelet wouldn't give as good a result.

In the meantime, the fact that inventors of the product knew damn well it was a scam pisses me off. I hate con artists. Plus, it seems I am now the owner of a very expensive rubber band. Well, at least it's a pretty rubber band.

To read more about it:

And a little bit about how the placebo effect isn't "if you believe it works, it works":
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