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FTC Cracks Down on Weight-Loss Products

James Chiodo, Certified Information Privacy Professional CIPP/US

No doubt you’ve seen the widespread ads with bold headlines making claims such as: “Lose 40 Pounds in 2 Weeks!”, or “Eat all you Want and Lose Weight!” These advertisements always sound too good to be true – because they are. The claims typically have little or no scientific evidence to back them. Now the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is aiming to put an end to these types of unsubstantiated weight loss claims.

The FTC announced it had recently obtained a number of large settlements from fad weight-loss product manufacturers. The settlements resulting from the FTC’s crackdown on false advertising amount to a $36 million-dollar  total (although not all collectable).

FTC Requires Scientific Studies for Advertising Claims

The FTC settled charges of false advertising against weight-loss product makers Sensa, L’Occitane, HCG Diet Direct and LeanSpa. The FTC charged each of these companies with pushing products using illegal, misleading and unsubstantiated advertising claims.

The FTC requires solid scientific evidence for any advertising claim, and at least two human clinical trials to back up any weight loss claim. None of the companies charged with false and misleading advertising possessed adequate studies or evidence to back up the weight-loss claims in their ads. Additionally, the FTC requires any company using a testimonial or endorsement to reveal if the endorser is paid, something several of the companies failed to do.

Sprinkles, Lotions, Berries and Hormones – None Can Prove Weight Loss Benefits

Pursuant to FTC’s enforcement actions, the following companies reached settlements with the FTC:

  • Sensa Products, LLC: Under its settlement agreement with the FTC
    Sensa Products LLC, and its parent company Sensa Inc., must pay $26.5 million dollars (out of a partially suspended $46.5 million-dollar  judgment).

Sensa’s advertising urged users to “sprinkle, eat and lose weight,” promising that the product, when sprinkled on everyday food, results in weight loss without any change in diet or exercise. The company had no scientific evidence to back the claims. The advertisements also used paid endorsements from now-thin Sensa “users” without disclosing the fact the endorsers were paid.

  • L’Occitane, Inc.: L’Occitane must pay $450,000 under its settlement agreement. The FTC charged L’Occitane with false and misleading advertising for claiming its skin creams eliminate cellulite and reduce inches. The ads stated that a user of its “Almond Beautiful Shape” and “Almond Shaping Delight” skin potions could slim and trim inches by applying the creams. Although the ads claimed, “clinically proven” results, the company had no scientific evidence to back the claims.
  • LeanSpa LLC: LeanSpa is required to hand $7.3 million dollars worth of assets over to the FTC in a partial settlement for its unfounded claims that users of its acai berry and colon cleanse products will experience weight loss benefits. The company had no scientific evidence or appropriate clinical studies to substantiate the claims.
  • HCG Diet Direct:  HCG is subject to a $3.2 million-dollar settlement (suspended for its inability to pay) for marketing a hormone treatment as a weight loss aid. The company advertised its products through fake “news” outlets, reporting that rapid weight loss results from ingesting its HCG Diet Direct Drops (a form of a human hormone). No accurate or reliable scientific studies support these claims.

Where Does the Settlement Money Go?

The FTC will distribute the proceeds from the settlements to refund consumers who relied on the false claims and purchased the products. However, the FTC warns consumers not to expect immediate payment. According to the FTC, “Refund administration for consumer redress takes time, and the FTC is in the process of determining how best to provide redress in each case” (see the FTC’s online press release). The FTC will provide further information on the status of reimbursements at: http://www.ftc.gov/enforcement/cases-proceedings/refunds.  Additionally, for updates on Sensa refunds, you can call 202-326-2784.

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