For relying upon the results of a flawed study to make what the Federal Trade Commission characterized as “baseless” and “hopelessly flawed” weight-loss claims for a green coffee extract, a Texas company will pay $3.5 million to the agency and be subject to higher standards of substantiation for future claims.
Applied Food Sciences sells a green coffee ingredient used in dietary supplements and foods. Applied paid for a study conducted in 2010 on overweight adults in India. But according to the FTC, the study was anything but scientific, as the lead investigator changed key measurements about the subjects and misstated which were taking the placebo and which ingested the green coffee. When the investigator was unable to get the study published, Applied hired researchers to rewrite it and never verified the authenticity, despite receiving conflicting data.
Instead, Applied relied upon the study to claim that its green coffee ingredient could help consumers lose 17.7 pounds, 10.5 percent of body weight, and 16 percent of body fat without diet or exercise in 22 weeks, the FTC alleged in its complaint.
The flawed study was also referenced on a popular daytime talk show. Applied promoted the appearance, even though the company knew or should have known that the study did not prove anything, the agency said. “In publicizing the results, it helped fuel the green coffee phenomenon,” Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, noted in a press release about the action.
Pursuant to the proposed consent order, Applied must pay the agency $3.5 million and notify trade customers that it lacked reasonable scientific support for the weight-loss claims. Going forward, Applied is prohibited from misrepresenting any aspects of tests or studies relating to its products and must provide at least two adequate and well-controlled human clinical tests as scientific substantiation for any future weight-loss claims.
To read the complaint and proposed consent order in FTC v. Applied Food Sciences, click here.
Why it matters: The FTC has taken multiple actions against marketers of green coffee products for deceptive advertising. Earlier this year, the agency filed suit against Pure Green Coffee, a company that made allegedly bogus claims that its extract of green coffee beans could help users lose weight and burn fat. Coupled with the Applied Food Sciences action, the agency’s efforts serve as a reminder that all advertisers can face liability for deceptive claims, even if – like Applied – they do not sell their products directly to consumers.