List Is Way to Screen Out Bogus Weight Loss and Health Claims

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WASHINGTON (AdAge.com) -- A top Federal Trade Commission official said the FTC will give media companies greater guidance on the types of fraudulent health and weight loss ads that shouldn't be accepted.

Howard Beales, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said that media companies aren't doing enough to screen out bogus ads offering unreasonable claims of dramatic weight loss in a matter of weeks.

Aid for media companies
Mr. Beales said that in response to media companies' concerns that they needed specific guidance from the FTC to legally justify decisions not to run ads, the FTC is readying a list of what it considers fraudulent claims.

"We recognize the need for more

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guidance and will develop a list of claims that are scientifically unfeasible," said Mr. Beales, adding that the list will include eight such claims.

The list will be released after Feb. 2, which is the deadline for submitting comments to the FTC stemming from an all-day workshop the FTC held last fall on diet and weight loss products. At the workshop, the FTC complained that media companies have been allowing flagrantly bogus advertising to run without making even cursory attempts to evaluate whether the claims might be verifiable.

Exploiting overweight Americans
"To responsible members of the media, we say again: we need your help. Stop selling advertising to the purveyors of pills and patches, potions and lotions that exploit overweight Americans with outrageous claims that you can diet in your dreams and exercise in a bottle," Mr. Beales said today. "Our aggressive law enforcement against fraudulent weight loss claims will continue, but we cannot do it alone."

Mr. Beales comments came after the FTC charged Slim Down Solution LLC, Maderia Management, and several related companies and individuals with using false and unsubstantiated claims in the marketing and advertising of Slim Down. The FTC cited the companies' claims that a key ingredient, D-glucosamine, absorbs up to 20 grams of dietary fat and causes significant weight loss without diet or exercise.

Slim Down has been heavily advertised in infomercials on cable networks Bravo, Comedy Central and PAX.

The companies agreed to not to make the disputed claims, but the FTC filed a lawsuit in West Palm Beach, Fla., also asking that the companies be forced to provide consumer redress.

Appealing decision
Meanwhile, the FTC is appealing a judge's ruling that the spokesman for "Exercise in a Bottle" and "Fat Trapper Plus" can't be sued for the profits he made. Former baseball player Steve Garvey, whose infomercials for Enforma Natural Products earned him more than $1 million, successfully argued he was only an actor in the spots and couldn't be sued.

A federal judge agreed and the ruling was viewed as a stunning defeat for the FTC.

The case was to act a major test of the FTC's ability to go beyond marketers and take action against spokesmen, ad agencies and media companies that benefit from promoting products using misleading claims. The FTC earlier had sued Enforma Natural Products, winning a $10 million settlement.

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