Dieters across the area will be without one source of support and counseling in January.

Pure Weight Loss, Inc, formerly LA Weight Loss, announced on Wednesday that it would close all of its more than 400 locations nationwide effective Jan. 4.

A statement released by the company on Wednesday said, "Fierce competition from the internet, the introduction of Alli, the over-the-counter weight loss pill, and other commercial diet programs, combined with a difficult economic environment, have forced us to take this action."

A spokesperson for Pure Weight Loss did not know if the Horsham-based company was filing for bankruptcy.

(Philadelphia Eagles' coach Andy Reid recently acted as a spokesperson for the company when it was still called LA Weight Loss.)

Employees in several franchises in the area declined to speak yesterday.

Pure Weight Loss advised customers to pick up any products they ordered or to complete a refund request form before the Jan. 4 closure.

Pure Weight Loss branches already are making cuts. Beginning Monday, the Center City location will be open for just three days next week for four hours on each of those days.

The sudden announcement left one Center City client, who did not wish to be named, "ready to scream."

The woman, who said she had lost about 80 pounds in four years using the Pure Weight Loss system, says she is entitled to over $300 for services and nutritional bars she prepaid for.

The diet pill, Alli, endorsed and sold by Pure Weight Loss, has been the target of criticism since the Food and Drug Administration approved it as an over-the-counter version of the prescription weight loss pill orlistat in February. Alli went on sale in July.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of the Public Citizen's health research group, has spoken out against the drug, both in its prescription and over the counter forms and has testified to the FDA about its harmful effects.

Wolfe said the drug can cause pre-cancerous lesions of the colon and said, like many diet drugs, after an inital spike, sales probably went down.

Pure Weight Loss is currently involved in a class action lawsuit in Tennesse over false claims about its weight loss program and costs. In 2002, the company agreed to pay the State of New York $100,000 plus $10,000 in legal costs in a settlement over falsely advertising the cost of its program.

L.A. Fitness is not affiliated with Pure Weight Loss and its centers will not be affected by Pure Weight Loss' closure.

Consumers interested in receiving a refund can call Pure Weight Loss's customer service line at 877-524-3571, or e-mail custservice@pureweightloss.com. *