Balance bracelets a pricey placebo

Rubber wrist bands claiming to promote natural energy flow for greater strength and poise were among the products "named and shamed" by an Australian consumer group. 

The "Power Balance" band was one of eight winners of this year's "Shonky Awards" handed out by Choice, an Australian consumer watchdog that vowed to "put the squeeze on this year's lemons". 

"Year after year, we are continually amazed by marketers' efforts to take people for a ride," said CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn. "We don't actually invite people getting awards because they tend to send us injunctions, but it does come as a surprise for them." 

The "Power Balance" band worn recently by golfer Ian Poulter at the 2010 Ryder cup and celebrities like basketball legend Shaquille O'Neal was pronounced "a pricey placebo". 

"The band was tested at Choice under controlled lab conditions which showed it did little else than empty purchasers' wallets," organisers said in a statement.

'Shonkiest and silliest'

Sydney personal trainer and triathlete Andrew Wood, who has worn one of the bands for months, said he wasn't surprised.

"I don't put in on thinking I'm Samson and take it off and think all my power is gone... but you do start getting attached to it so I probably will keep wearing it," Wood said. 

"I'm less taken by all the hype around its energy systems." 

Health and fitness goods featured prominently in the awards, which for the past five years have aimed to choose the "shonkiest, meanest and silliest" products and services. 

Among them was a "recreational rope" by Medalist, which looked like a standard climbing rope with a label saying it conformed to Australian standards. But Choice tests showed "it's hardly stronger than string and is basically stuffed with nothing tougher than tissue paper". 

They added that one such rope hung from a tree simply snapped one day, dropping a surprised child a couple of metres. 

Other winners were expensive painkillers for specific pains that had identical ingredients to cheaper types, and a supermarket chain whose "under $10 meal promotion" for a coq au vin meal it said would serve four people actually cost nearly $40 because the essential ingredient, a bottle of wine, was not included. - (Reuters, October 2010)

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