Campus: CSU, Long Beach -- December 8, 1999

workout.gifTesting, Testing, Are Infomercial Claims For Real?

We've all seen them. For whatever reason you're awake at 3 a.m. watching television and that infomercial comes on, you know, the one touting exercise equipment that promises to change your life.

You've heard the claims - "Flatten your stomach in two weeks," "Get rock hard abs in just two minutes a day," "Eliminate those love handles forever!"

Ever wonder if the exercise equipment promoted on those infomercials actually lives up to their sometimes questionable claims? Of course you do.

In reality, some, though not all, of the equipment advertised may have been tested before such claims reached the airwaves. But now, to help companies keep from making inaccurate claims, CSULB has opened its Movement Science Laboratories (MSL) to do exactly that…test exercise equipment and verify or contradict claims before infomercials are made.

"The focus of our group is on testing commercially available fitness and sport products and services," says Michael Lacourse, a CSULB faculty member in Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE). "We try to determine if the equipment is effective and it can do what they say it can do."

If, through testing, the claims are proven to be true, great. But, what if they are proven false?

"Often the claims companies make to begin with are unrealistic, and once they get our data they become more realistic about what they can and can't say," says Lacourse, acknowledging that marketing departments "hype" a product, which, after all, is their job. "They will reword things based on what we find. The claims will be different, maybe just slightly, but they will be accurate."

The individuals making up MSL are CSULB Kinesiology and Physical Education (KPE) Department faculty members Lacourse, John Garhammer and Ralph Rozenek, along with Paul Ward, former national education director of Bally Fitness. There is also Tom Storer, an exercise physiologist who oversees a research lab from the El Camino College campus where he teaches, and Kristen Lawrence, a recent graduate of the KPE master's degree program, serves as the assistant director for MSL.

"Each of us has our own specialty and every so often I would refer companies to someone who I knew could help them," says Rozenek. "We all did. It was pretty piecemeal. Pretty soon we decided creating this center would be a good way to get together and try to get more students involved, which was a primary goal of the Movement Science Lab. For the students to get more hands-on experience is a big thing. It also brings more exposure to our program."

"We decided to be proactive and go search out companies who want this work done," says Lacourse. "Our goal is to become an independent testing laboratory."

So, how does a product find its way to the MSL? Someone develops a product and, in turn, approaches an infomercial production company in an effort to sell them the product. The infomercial company or the inventor would then contract with MSL to test the product.

"They say, 'we have this product and we want to be able to make the following claims on television. Can you test these claims for us? Can we make these claims?'" says Lacourse.

At that point MSL takes the product and gets organized in terms of research design, hires graduate students and begins testing. Some projects take hundreds of testing hours to reach conclusions; others just days.

As an independent contractor, MSL has no vested interest in any product, so it can be as critical or complimentary as its test data allows.

"We can be the best friends of these companies because we are not attached to them and our testing is completely independent and unbiased," says Lacourse. "It doesn't make any difference to us how it turns out. Plus, the clients want the product to be effective and do what they say it does."

Which begs the question, "do any of the products actually work?"

"Yes," says Lacourse. "I'm not at liberty to say which ones, but some of them surprise even us."

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