January 5, 2004
FTC Targets Deceptive Weight-Loss Claims
The Federal TradeCommission (FTC) launched its Red Flag education campaign Dec. 9 to assistthe media in voluntarily screening weight-loss product ads containing claimsthat are too good to be true. In support of the initiative, FTC released amedia reference guide entitled Red Flag: Bogus Weight Loss Claims, whichcan be found at www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/edcams/redflag/index.html. This movefollows FTCs November 2002 FTC workshop, Deception in Weight-LossAdvertising, when the agency laid the foundation for the program.
This campaign was designed to simplify screening, but weknow some deceptive ads will slip through, said Timothy Muris, FTC chairman, at a press conference. Murissaid FTC (www.ftc.gov) is concerned about consumers being taken in by miracleproducts to lose weight without diet or exercise. The people making thesefraudulent claims are not legitimate businesses, he stated.
The Red Flag plan is meant to reduce deceptive weight-lossadvertising and promote positive, reliable advertising messages about weightloss. As part of this effort, FTC came out with a list of seven scientificallyinfeasible claims frequently found in misleading weight-loss ads:
Consumers who use the advertised product can lose twopounds or more per week (over four or more weeks) without reducing caloricintake and/or increasing their physical activity.
Consumers who use the advertised product can losesubstantial weight while still enjoying unlimited amounts of high calorie foods.
The advertised product will cause permanent weight loss(even when the user stops using the product).
The advertised product will cause substantial weight lossthrough the blockage of absorption of fat or calories.
Consumers who use the advertised product (without medicalsupervision) can safely lose more than three pounds per week for a period ofmore than four weeks.
Users can lose substantial weight through the use of theadvertised product that is worn on the body or rubbed into the skin.
The advertised product will cause substantial weight lossfor all users.
Consumers who use the advertised product can lose weightonly from those parts of the body where they wish to lose weight.
FTC also reported it had taken actions against three companiesusing misleading claims to market weight-loss products. The first action wastaken against the Canadian company Beauty Visions Worldwide, dba The FulfillmentSolutions Advantage Inc., which advertises and sells seaweed-based weight-losspatches called Hydro- Gel Slim Patch and Slenderstrip. Labeledclaims included No starvation diets, small portions or missed meals! andJust fast and easy, LASTING weight loss!
The complaint also named the companys principals, RobertVan Velzen and Nancy Sprague; according to FTC, the defendants falselyrepresented that Hydro-Gel Slim Patch and Slenderstrip could cause rapid andsubstantial weight losssuch as losing a pound a day for up to months. FTC wasawarded a temporary restraining order against the company, which froze theassets of Beauty Visions Worldwide.
The second action was taken against Universal Nutrition Corp.,MTM Marketing & Consulting Inc. and the companies owner, Robert J.Michnal. The defendants agreed to pay $1 million in consumer redress tosettle allegations that they made false and unsubstantiated claims forThermoSlim, a weight-loss product containing ephedra and other ingredients.According to FTC, the defendants advertised ThermoSlim as 95 pounds gone in60 days.
In the third action taken by FTC, Mark Nutritionals HarrySiskindits former president and chief executive officer, and the lonehold-out who hadnt yet settled with FTCagreed to pay a total of $1 millionto the FTC and the states of Texas, Illinois and Pennsylvania. Siskind will payhalf of the $1 million to the federal government as part of the settlement withthe FTC. Siskinds agreement with the FTC also requires him to post a $1million bond before selling a weight-loss product or service in the future. TheFTC announced settlements with Mark Nutritionals and company executive Edward DAlessandroin October 2003.
The stipulated final order contains a suspended judgment of$155 million with two avalanche clauses: one that requires Siskind to paythe full $155 million if he fails to pay the agreed $500,000 to FTC in a timelymanner and a second that requires him to pay the amount in full if it isdiscovered that he made material misrepresentations on his financial disclosurestatements.
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