As millions of American consumers begin the new year with weight-loss resolutions, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) held a January 7, 2014, press conference to announce enforcement initiatives against companies which promise that their products, including food additives, skin cream and dietary supplements, can produce slimming results with little effort.
FTC Bureau of Consumer Protections Director Jessica Rich discussed the start of “Operation Failed Resolution,” which is a part of FTC’s effort to stop
misleading claims related to weight-loss products. FTC reported four enforcement actions, challenging a variety of weight-loss advertising campaigns, that will recover approximately $34 million for consumers. Under the settlements reached with product makers, only the false claims will be prohibited, not the products themselves.
FTC has issued new guidance for media outlets for the identification of false weight-loss advertising. Titled “Gut-Check: A Reference Guide for Media on Spotting False Weight-Loss Claims,” the guidance contains an online tutorial and written materials that the media can use to identify the seven claims that experts and evidence have shown are always false.
Those claims are (i) causes weight loss of 2 pounds or more per week for a month or more without dieting or exercise; (ii) causes substantial weight loss no matter what or how much the consumer eats; (iii) causes permanent weight loss even after the consumer stops using the product; (iv) blocks the absorption of fat or calories to enable consumers to lose substantial weight;
(v) safely enables consumers to lose more than 3 pounds per week for more than four weeks; (vi) causes substantial weight loss for all users; or (vii) causes substantial weight loss by wearing a product on the body or rubbing it into the skin. If any one of the seven claims are found in advertisements, they are likely deceptive, and FTC recommends that such marketing be rejected by the media.
FTC has also provided guidance for consumers of products and services advertised for weight loss, urging them to carefully evaluate advertising claims for weight-loss products.
FTC summarized each proposed settlement as follows:
Sensa Products, LLC
The marketers of Sensa® will pay $26.5 million to settle charges that they deceived consumers with unsupported weight-loss claims and misleading endorsements. Sensa marketed flavored powder to sprinkle
on food by promising weight loss without any change to diet or exercise. The company claimed that the powder enhanced food’s smell and taste, making the user feel fuller faster. FTC charged Sensa Products LLC, its parent company, CEO Adam Goldenberg, and Sensa® creator Alan Hirsch.
In addition to alleging deceptive advertising, FTC also claimed that the defendants failed to disclose that consumers were compensated for their endorsements with payments of $1,000-$5,000 and trips to Los Angeles. FTC further alleged that Hirsch made expert endorsements not supported by scientific evidence and misrepresented the company’s role in a study. Under the order, Sensa is barred from misrepresenting any scientific evidence and is also prohibited from making (i) weight-loss
claims unless the company has two adequate and well-controlled human clinical studies to support the claims or (ii) any other health-related claim unless it is supported by competent and reliable scientific tests, analyses, research, or studies. While the order imposes a $46.5-million judgment against the defendants, Sensa will be required to pay only $26.5 million of the total judgment due to its inability to pay.
FTC has reached a settlement regarding L’Occitane’s allegedly deceptive claims that its Almond Beautiful Shape® and Almond Shaping Delight® skin creams are clinically proven to slim the body. The company claimed that the creams could trim 1.3 inches in just four weeks and fought cellulite. It also claimed that the creams were clinically proven to visibly refine and reshape the silhouette, as well as tone the body. L’Occitane has agreed to pay $450,000 for consumer redress as a part of the settle- ment. The proposed settlement bans L’Occitane from claiming that the cream causes substantial weight loss unless supported by two adequate
well-controlled human clinical studies; requires that any claim that a drug or cosmetic reduces or eliminates cellulite or affects body fat or weight be backed by competent and reliable scientific evidence; and prohibits the company from misrepresenting the results of any test, study or research, or that the benefits of a product are scientifically proven.
HCG Diet Direct
FTC alleges that HCG Diet Direct and its director Clint Ethington falsely promised that their liquid homeopathic hCG drops would cause rapid weight loss, and they have agreed to a settlement that would bar such claims. The company sold a diluted liquid form of hCG, the hormone produced by the human placenta, that has been falsely promoted as
a weight-loss supplement. According to the complaint FTC filed in an Arizona federal court, consumers were instructed to use the drops in conjunction with a very low-calorie diet program—500 to 800 calories per day—that the defendants claimed was safe. The company also allegedly posted testimonials on its Website without disclosing that the customers “had received free products, had been paid, or were related to Ethington.”
FTC and the Food and Drug Administration jointly issued warning letters in November 2011 to HCG Diet Direct and six other companies advising that their hCG products were mislabeled and that it was unlawful under the FTC Act to make weight-loss claims that were not supported by reliable scientific evidence. The proposed settlement bars the defendants from claiming that any dietary supplement, food or drug causes weight loss or that consumers who use the product can expect the same result as endorsers unless the claim is non-misleading, and unless they have two adequate and well-controlled human clinical studies to substantiate their claims. The order imposes a $3.2-million judgment, which has been suspended based on the defendants’ inability to pay.
FTC settled claims against LeanSpa for some $7 million. In December 2001, FTC and Connecticut officials charged the company with using fake news Websites to promote their acai berry and “colon cleanse” products, making deceptive weight-loss claims and telling consumers they could receive free product trials by paying the normal cost of shipping and handling. Consumers actually paid $79.99 for the trial and for recurring monthly product shipments that were allegedly difficult to cancel. The proposed settlement prohibits the defendants from billing consumers for products or services by automatically charging them on a recurring basis unless they opt out; bars the defendants from falsely claiming that any product can cause rapid and substantial weight loss without diet or exercise; and requires LeanSpa to have at least two human clinical trials to support any weight-loss claims it makes about the products it sells.