Back in the day, AARP used to stand for the American Association of Retired Persons. But since the organization offers membership to anyone over age 50 – and Americans’ ideas of “retirement” have been radically altered since the organization’s founding in 1958 – AARP is no longer just for those who, to borrow a phrase from the fifties, have stopped punching a clock.

In fact, with current membership of nearly 38 million, AARP is now well known for being a group with enormous influence. It can leverage its clout with corporations to obtain discounts to nearly any product or service under the sun – savings on car insurance, discounts for shows and events, etc – you name it. AARP has wide appeal, it is not to be taken lightly, and when the organization speaks – on a range of subjects, including the political – millions upon millions of people listen.

But having a gigantic megaphone cuts both ways.

Given AARP’s sizable sway, and that its mission statement includes the goal to help people fight “for the issues that matter most to families — such as health care… ” the organization’s health advice needs to be sound. And while some may say repeating a tenuous connection between chewing gum and weight loss is an issue not worth raising, let’s not lose sight of AARP’s huge reach.

In a posting titled “The New American Diet” from November 2012 – but more importantly redistributed by email newsletter this week to its members – Dr. John Whyte recommends chewing gum as one of several weight-loss strategies. But there’s no consensus that the tactic is even effective. In fact, overall there’s fairly wide disagreement on the subject.

Dr. Whyte states: “Yes, chewing gum can help keep the weight off. And for a reason you may not have realized: Chewing gum releases hormones that signal your brain that you’re full. This activity also helps if you’re a ‘nibbler’ — someone who tends to sample food while cooking or watching TV. You should always chew sugar-free gum; the sugared kind promotes tooth decay.”

Meanwhile, a study published in April 2013 in the journal Eating Behaviors, conducted by researchers from University of Buffalo and Ohio State University, found the exact opposite was true. At the time, Medical Daily reported ran a story titled “Chewing Gum Study: Gum Chewing Doesn’t Contribute To Weight Loss,” and the well-known publication and health site Prevention posted “Chewing Gum Keeps You Skinny, And 5 more diet myths – debunked.”

And on the third side of the coin we have WebMD, which straddles the fence. “Chewing gum can be good for you. Not only can it freshen your breath, it can help you overcome cigarette cravings, improve your memory — and even help you lose weight,” the website states. “But this won’t lead to significant weight loss unless you also follow a reduced-calorie diet and get regular physical activity.”

There’s not much evidence to support the chewing gum connection to weight loss. And even though this isn’t an egregious error, it wouldn’t hurt to remind AARP that accuracy with respect to its healthcare recommendations does matter. Because, of course, officials wouldn’t want to provide any reason for their members to begin wondering whether other information they’re receiving isn’t anything but right on target.

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