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FTC pounds companies over false weight-loss claims in product advertising

As it kicked off the new year, the Federal Trade Commission made a resolution: no more bogus weight-loss claims! Operation Failed Resolution is the latest push in the FTC’s campaign against misleading advertising. As part of this sensaeffort, the FTC brought charges against four companies that promoted weight-loss products using deceptive and unfounded claims. The marketers of Sensa (a powdered food additive) — who encouraged consumers to “sprinkle, eat, and lose weight” — will pay $26.5 million to settle FTC charges that they deceived consumers with misleading endorsements and unsubstantiated weight-loss claims.

The FTC also brought charges against L’Occitane (which claimed its skin cream could “trim 1.3 inches in just 4 weeks”), HCG Diet Direct (who marketed homeopathic HCG drops with claims that consumers could “lose 40 pounds in 40 days”), and LeanSpa (accused of using fake news websites to deceptively promote acai berry and “colon cleanse” weight-loss products).

But the FTC didn’t stop there. It published a reference guide for media outlets, asking them to do a “Gut Check” before running ads with phony weight-loss claims. To help media companies spot false weight-loss representations, the FTC compiled a list of seven statements in ads that experts say simply can’t be true. In this guide, the commission asks media companies to think twice before running any ad that says a product:

hcg diet• causes weight loss of two pounds or more a week for a month or more without dieting or exercise;
• causes substantial weight loss no matter what or how much the consumer eats;
• causes permanent weight loss even after the consumer stops using the product;
• blocks the absorption of fat or calories to enable consumers to lose substantial weight;
• safely enables consumers to lose more than three pounds per week for more than four weeks;
• causes substantial weight loss for all users; or
• causes substantial weight loss by wearing the product on the body or rubbing it into the skin.

LegitScript applauds the FTC for cracking down on deceptive and unsubstantiated weight-loss product claims, and for its efforts to enlist publishers as gatekeepers to help prevent the dissemination of such claims. 2014 is off to a great start!