January 8, 2014
Dieters Beware: Weight Loss Products May Use Deceptive Marketing
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Most New Year's resolutions include wanting to become healthier, or to lose weight. There are literally thousands of products out there claiming that they can help a person achieve those goals. Not all of them tell the truth, nor do they have ethical practices when advertising.
This week, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced a "law enforcement initiative stopping national marketers that used deceptive advertising claims to peddle fad weight-loss products, from food additives and skin cream to dietary supplements," along with a $34 million dollar settlement with four companies accused of using deceptive advertising practices.
According to Alison Young of USA Today, the FTC says the companies lured consumers with promises of easy weight-loss.
However, "the chances of being successful just by sprinkling something on your food, rubbing cream on your thighs, or using a supplement are slim to none," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's consumer protection bureau. "The science just isn't there."
The FTC initiative, called "Operation Failed Resolution," was aimed at stopping misleading claims for products promoting easy weight loss and slimmer bodies.
The four companies in question are Sensa, L'Occitane, LeanSpa, and HCG Diet Direct. All four have been required to drop unsubstantiated claims from their ads, as well as refunding money to customers, according to Diane Bartz of Reuters.
* Sensa made claims that sprinkling its product over food would help customers lose weight without diet or exercise. The FTC charges that the claims are unfounded by scientific studies and the company used misleading endorsements. Sensa, which has had US sales of over $364 million, will pay $26.5 million to its customers. The FTC will also bar the company, its CEO Adam Goldenberg, and creator Alan Hirsh from making weight-loss claims about any dietary supplement, food or drug unless they have two adequate and well-controlled human clinical studies.
* L'Occitane marketed two skin creams, promising that they had "clinically proven slimming effectiveness" and would "visibly reduce the appearance of cellulite." According to the FTC, these claims were completely without scientific backing. The company will pay $450,000 in reimbursements to customers.
* LeanSpa used fake news sites to promote the acai berry and weight-loss "colon cleanse" supplements. LeanSpa was shut down by the FTC and the state of Connecticut in 2011. Boris Mizhen and his wife Angelina Strano, along with three companies he controls, will surrender over $7 million in cash and real estate in a partial settlement. The FTC is still pursuing lawsuits against other defendants.
* HCG Diet Direct marketed "liquid drops of a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin, which is produced by the human placenta and found in the urine of pregnant women," according to the Washington Post. The FTC calls this an "unproven human hormone that has been touted by hucksters for more than half a century as a weight-loss treatment." The FTC won a $2 million settlement against HCG Diet Direct, but the judgment has been suspended due to the company's inability to pay.
This is not the first time the FTC has taken action against marketers of weight-loss products.
"We do like to periodically bring new cases and new sweeps, both to deter conduct by companies in this area and also remind consumers about the fact that many of the claims in this area are not accurate, and they should be wary of those," Rich said.
She also stated that media organizations need to do more screening for, and reject deceptive advertisements. The FTC will be sending letters to 75 publishers, broadcasters and media trade groups asking that their staffs be educated on how to spot bogus claims. The agency has also created a "Gut Check" website that will have updated guidance to identify seven weight-loss marketing claims that evidence show are never true.