FTC Announces 'Operation Big Fat Lie' 30110

December 6, 2004

4 Min Read
FTC Announces 'Operation Big Fat Lie'

FTC Announces 'Operation Big Fat Lie'

WASHINGTON--The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed six U.S. District Court cases against companies using unsubstantiated claims to market weight loss products as part of the agency's new initiative--Operation Big Fat Lie. Joining the agency's earlier Operations Cure.All and Red Flag, the move continues FTC's three-pronged attack against false and unsubstantiated weight loss claims: targeting marketers, educating consumers and partnering with media outlets.

"With an estimated 70 million Americans trying to lose weight, it is no wonder that unscrupulous marketers are out there, peddling products that promise fast and easy weight loss," Deborah Platt Majoras, FTC chairwoman, said in a press conference announcing the initiative. "False and misleading advertisements are about as credible as a note from the Tooth Fairy."

FTC's cases involve a number of products, including teas, dietary supplements and topical gels and patches, which were advertised in publications including Cosmopolitan, USA Weekend and the San Francisco Chronicle. In each of the cases, FTC is seeking an injunction against further unsubstantiated claims and consumer redress. The full complaints are available on FTC's Web site (www.ftc.gov). Cases targeting dietary supplements include:

A complaint filed in U.S. District Court, District of Maine, against Selfworx.com for promotion of a topical gel and a chitosan-based dietary supplement, Ultra LipoLean. Among the reported false and unsubstantiated claims for Ultra LipoLean were that the product would cause weight loss of up to four pounds per week without the need for diet or exercise and that two tablets would absorb 20 g to 30 g of fat in a meal.

Femina Inc. faces charges in U.S. District Court, Southern District of Florida, over topical products (a gel and patch) and a dietary supplement--Fat Seltzer Reduce--which reportedly caused substantial fat loss without diet or exercise. FTC is seeking both a restraining order against claims as well as a general accounting of financial records, and set a hearing on the issue. Another marketer of Fat Seltzer settled with FTC in early October.

A case in U.S. District Court, Central District of California, against Natural Products LLC concerns its Bio Trim dietary supplement product, which contains glucomannan, marketed as a "Thrilling Japanese diet pill that guarantees rapid weight loss" that works for all users and works without the need for cutting calories.

New England Diet Center (dba Bronson Partners) faces charges in U.S. District Court, District of Connecticut, for promotion of a green tea and weight loss patch. Among the claims for the tea were the ability to rapidly lose weight while eating "your favorite foods" and the ability to block the body's absorption of fat and calories.

Charges filed in U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois Eastern Division, targeted AVS Marketing for promotion of its dietary supplement, Himalayan Diet Breakthrough, that allegedly contained Nepalese Mineral Pitch--a "paste-like material that oozes out of the cliff face cracks in the summer season" and causes rapid weight loss without the need for diet or exercise. In addition to seeking permanent injunction and consumer redress, the order froze the defendants' assets.

In addition to filing charges against the companies, FTC sent reminder letters to all media outlets that ran advertisements challenged in the cases. The letter included a copy of FTC's reference guide for media, which outlines the seven "red flag" claims that, if seen in an ad, should trigger the media outlet to reject the advertisement. According to Majoras, since FTC launched its Red Flag media education campaign in December 2003, the number of advertisements containing the red flag claims has dropped by almost half. "Many in the publishing and broadcasting industries are doing the right thing, stepping up their efforts to reject ads like the ones we targeted today," she said. "That's good for consumers, good for the media and good for honest advertisers." Majoras said there was no plan to take action against media outlets carrying such advertisements, noting the agency feels working in partnership to educate the media is proving effective.

Finally, FTC expanded its consumer education outreach. The agency initiated an online campaign, Weighing the Evidence in Diet Ads, to warn consumers against products marketed with the "red flag" claims. FTC also launched a "teaser" Web site, designed to draw in consumers surfing online for weight loss products. The site (www.wemarket4u.net/fatfoe) promotes an imaginary weight loss product--a dietary supplement with eggplant extract--using common buzz words and the red flag claims. Consumers who try to click and learn more are informed that the site is an example of false and misleading products, and aims to educate consumers on how to avoid diet rip-offs.

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