As dieters work on new year's resolutions to shed pounds, the Federal Trade Commission Tuesday announced enforcement actions against four companies the agency says have used deceptive advertising claims to sell weight-loss products.
The products lured consumers with promises of making weight-loss easy. But "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 announced the following enforcement actions:
• The marketers of Sensa, a weight-loss powder sprinkled on food, will pay $26.5 million to settle agency charges that the company made unfounded weight-loss claims and used misleading endorsements. The money will be refunded to consumers who bought Sensa, which was sold by retail chains such as Costco and GNC, on the Home Shopping Network, and on the Internet. Terms of the settlement, among other things, bar the company, its CEO Adam Goldenberg and Sensa creator and part-owner Alan Hirsch from making weight-loss claims about dietary supplements, foods or drugs unless they have two adequate and well-controlled human clinical studies.Sensa had U.S. sales of more than $364 million, Rich said.
• L'Occitane Inc. will pay $450,000 for selling its Almond Beautiful Shape and Almond Shaping Delight skin creams, which the company said had body slimming capabilities and are clinically proven. Ads said Almond Beautiful Shape was a "cellulite fighter" and could "trim 1.3 inches in just 4 weeks." Yet the company had no science to back up the claim, the FTC said. The proposed settlement in this case, among other things, bans the firm from claiming any product applied to the skin causes substantial weight loss or reduction in body size.
• LeanSpa principal Boris Mizhen and three companies he controls will surrender cash, real estate and personal property worth an estimated $7 million in a partial settlement with the FTC over allegedly deceptive promotion through fake news websites of acai berry and "colon cleanse" weight-loss supplements. Mizhen's wife, Angelina Strano, who the FTC says accepted money in the scheme but didn't actively participate in it, will surrender nearly $300,000. Mizhen's operation was shut down by the FTC and the state of Connecticut in December 2011. Litigation continues against other defendants in the LeanSpa case, the FTC said.
• HCG Diet Direct, which marketed an "unproven human hormone that has been touted by hucksters for more than half a century as a weight-loss treatment," had its $3.2 million judgment suspended because of the company's inability to pay. The FTC says the Arizona-based company and its director, Clint Ethington, sold liquid drops containing a diluted form of human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone produced by the human placenta, and claimed in ads that consumers could lose up to one pound a day by placing the solution under their tongues before meals while eating a very low calorie diet. The proposed settlement bars the company and Ethington from, among other things, making weight-loss product claims unless the claim is non-misleading and backed by at least two adequate and well-controlled human clinical studies.
Officials at the four companies were not immediately available for comment.
The FTC has taken similar actions against marketers of weight-loss products for decades. "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.
Rich said media organizations need to do more to screen for and reject deceptive advertisements and announced that the FTC is sending letters to 75 publishers, broadcasters and media trade groups asking them to educate their sales staffs on how to spot bogus claims. Rich said the FTC also has created a "Gut Check" websitewith updated guidance to help advertising officials identify seven weight-loss marketing claims that evidence show are never true.
Consumers also need to recognize that when they buy fad products they're wasting money and delaying making important changes in diet and exercise, Rich said. The FTC has tips on its website for consumers considering health and weight loss products. "We want consumers to learn to recognize tell tale signs of a rip off," she said.