FTC Workshop Targets Weight-Loss Claims 28865

December 16, 2002

3 Min Read
FTC Workshop Targets Weight-Loss Claims

FTC Workshop Targets Weight-Loss Claims

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

The workshop began with FTC Chairman Timothy Muris describingdeceptive and misleading weight-loss claims as "rampant and on therise." Muris showed a video of infomercials for products such as FatTrapper and a Peel Away the Pounds herbal patch as examples of deceptive ads. Healso called for a joint effort of law enforcement, consumer education, industryself-regultion and media pre-screening to eliminate the ads.

Following Muris' opening remarks, a 10-member science paneldiscussed various claims that appear in weight-loss ads and voted that each ofthese claims was not supported by science. They included: claims that a productwill work for all people; claims of permanent weight loss; claims that users caneat all that they want and still lose weight; claims that weight loss can betargeted to specific areas of the body; claims related to fat absorption or fatblockers; claims related to transdermal or "patch" products; claims ofeasy weight loss with no effort; and claims of safety for weight loss exceedingthree pounds per week.

The science panel also expressed its opinion that weight loss isonly possible by increasing exercise and/or decreasing calorie consumption. Thepanel consisted of representatives from Harvard Medical School, the NationalInstitutes 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 and Health ManagementResources.

Following the science panel, FTC Commissioner Sheila Anthonystated 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 andweight-loss products. She also said the media has an important role to play inprotecting consumers from fraud. She called on the media to refuse to run adsthat claim "unreasonable results," and said that law enforcement aloneis not enough.

The next panel consisted of industry representatives, includingAmerican Herbal Products Association (AHPA) President Michael McGuffin, Councilfor Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Executive Director John Cordaro and NationalNutritional Foods Association (NNFA) Executive Director David Seckman, plusrepresentatives from NAD, the Electronic Retailing Association, Jenny CraigInc., Slim Fast and Icon Health & Fitness.

McGuffin described a draft framework of voluntary advertisingguidelines being developed by AHPA. "The responsible center of the herbalproducts industry supports sound, FTC-sanctioned guidelines for advertisingweight-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 collaborationbetween the FTC and industry, but emphasized that increased law enforcementagainst fraudulent ads is necessary.

The final panel consisted of media representatives from theNewspaper Association of America, Good Housekeeping, New Hope NaturalMedia, 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 expressedconcern about reviewing ads for substantiation of claims. Good Housekeepingwas an exception, as the magazine pre-screens every ad's substantiation.

Michael Pashby, executive vice president of the MagazinePublishers of America, stated that such a review for accuracy of claims wouldlikely result in a refusal by the media to accept any ads for weight-lossproducts. Other panelists raised the question of First Amendment violations thata list of "presumptively false" claims could cause. Panelist FrederickSchauer, a First Amendment expert from Harvard University, suggested thatmagazines could be liable for the content of ads if the FTC provides veryspecific guidelines for what is not acceptable.

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

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

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