FTC Workshop Targets Weight-Loss Claims

November 21, 2002

3 Min Read
FTC Workshop Targets Weight-Loss Claims

WASHINGTON--A Nov. 19 Federal Trade Commission (FTC) workshop titled "Deception in Weight-Loss Advertising" may result in a list of forbidden advertising claims.

The workshop began with FTC Chairman Timothy Muris describing deceptive and misleading weight-loss claims as "rampant and on the rise." Muris showed a video of infomercials for products such as "Fat Trapper" and a "Peel Away the Pounds" herbal patch as examples of deceptive ads. He also called for a joint effort of law enforcement, consumer education, industry self-regulation and media pre-screening to eliminate the ads.

Following Muris' opening remarks, a 10-member science panel discussed various claims that appear in weight-loss ads and voted that each of these claims was not supported by science. They included:

* Claims that a product will work for all people.

* Claims of permanent weight loss.

* Claims that users can eat all that they want and still lose weight.

* Claims that weight loss can be targeted to specific areas of the body.

* Claims related to fat absorption or fat blockers.

* Claims related to transdermal or "patch" products.

* Claims of easy weight loss with no effort.

* Claims of safety for weight loss exceeding three pounds per week.

The science panel also expressed its opinion that weight loss is only possible by increasing exercise and/or decreasing calorie consumption. The panel consisted of representatives from Harvard Medical School, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the American Society of Bariatric Physicians, Columbia University, the University of Pennsylvania, Slim Fast Foods Co., ImagiNutrition, the University of California-Davis, the University of Pennsylvania and Health Management Resources.

Following the science panel, FTC Commissioner Sheila Anthony stated that there must be better industry self-regulation of weight-loss ads. She suggested the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division (NAD) model as one that could be followed by makers of dietary supplements and weight-loss products. She also said the media has an important role to play in protecting consumers from fraud. She called on the media to refuse to run ads that claim "unreasonable results," and said that law enforcement alone is not enough.

The next panel consisted of industry representatives, including American Herbal Products Association (AHPA) President Michael McGuffin, Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Executive Director John Cordaro and National Nutritional Foods Association (NNFA) Executive Director David Seckman, plus representatives from NAD, the Electronic Retailing Association, Jenny Craig Inc., Slim Fast and Icon Health & Fitness.

McGuffin described a draft framework of voluntary advertising guidelines being developed by AHPA. "The responsible center of the herbal products industry supports sound, FTC-sanctioned guidelines for advertising weight-loss products," he said. He also expressed concern about the "bias of the [scientific] panel against self care."

Seckman and Cordaro also expressed support for collaboration between the FTC and industry, but emphasized that increased law enforcement against fraudulent ads is necessary.

The final panel consisted of media representatives from the Newspaper Association of America, Good Housekeeping, New Hope Natural Media, the University of Nebraska, Magazine Publishers of America, Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau, Auburn University and Harvard University. The panelists discussed their ad review processes, and generally expressed concern about reviewing ads for substantiation of claims. Good Housekeeping was an exception, as the magazine pre-screens every ad's substantiation.

Michael Pashby, executive vice president of the Magazine Publishers of America, stated that such a review for accuracy of claims would likely result in a refusal by the media to accept any ads for weight-loss products. Other panelists raised the question of First Amendment violations that a list of "presumptively false" claims could cause. Panelist Frederick Schauer, a First Amendment expert from Harvard University, suggested that magazines could be liable for the content of ads if the FTC provides very specific guidelines for what is not acceptable.

The event concluded with remarks from Howard Beales, director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection. Beales said the scientific panel concluded that a number of weight-loss claims are false, and FTC would assemble a list of "illegal claims."

Additional information about the FTC workshop is available at www.ftc.gov/bcp/workshops/weightloss/.

Subscribe and receive the latest insights on the health and nutrition industry.
Join 37,000+ members. Yes, it's completely free.

You May Also Like