FTC Warns Against Deceptive Weight Loss Advertising Claims
The world of weight-loss advertising is a fraudulent fantasy land where pounds "melt away," no diet or exercise is required and "miracle" substances like apple pectin and lobster shells seek and destroy enemy fat, according to a new report issued Tuesday by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
The FTC warns that the use of deceptive and misleading claims in weight-loss advertising is rampant. Nearly 40 percent of ads in a study by FTC regulators contained claims that were almost certainly false on their face, such as "You can lose 18 pounds in one week." Plus, 55 percent of ads made claims that were very likely to be false or lacked any proof.
And this type of advertising appears to
be on the rise, despite increased law enforcement efforts by the FTC.
"Consumers are being ripped off by products that don't perform as
promised," said FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris at a press conference
Tuesday. "The only thing these quick fixes leave lighter is their
wallets." About 6 in 10 Americans are overweight or obese. U.S. consumers
desperate to shed the extra pounds spend more than $30 billion per year
on weight-loss products ranging from pills to patches to creams.
Weight Loss Ads Getting Crazier
Researchers found that the number of weight-loss ads appearing in mainstream magazines such as Redbook and Cosmopolitan more than doubled between 1992 and 2001. The claims also were more over the top in the most recent issues. The study also noted the types of products advertised shifted from primarily meal-replacement programs to dietary supplements. This raises concerns because supplements are generally marketed with claims that reducing calories or increasing exercise is unnecessary and there is no scientific evidence that any over-the-counter pill causes substantial, sustained weight loss. Though the safety of weight-loss products is not within the purview of the FTC's report, Adam Drewnowski, director of the nutrition sciences program at the University of Washington in Seattle, is concerned about the potential health risks.
While he notes that most of these supplements
are essentially sugar or caffeine pills, others contain ingredients, such
as the herbal stimulant ephedra, that may cause health ills. The popular
herb is currently being investigated for serious safety concerns, including
a possible link to heart attacks and strokes.
No Quick-Fixes for Weight Loss
"It is important for consumers to
understand there are no quick fixes, that is the message here - there
are no quick fixes to weight loss," said U.S. Surgeon General Richard
Carmona, commenting on the report at a press conference. The researchers
did not test specific claims but the report said "many of the claims
we reviewed are so contrary to existing scientific evidence, or so clearly
unsupported by the available evidence, that there is little doubt that
they are false or deceptive."
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