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Government Charges Weight Loss Companies With Deceptive Advertising

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“Get a gym body without going to the gym” by sprinkling a powder on your food. “Significantly slim your thighs and buttocks” using an almond-scented cream. Lose up to one pound a day with just two drops of diet formula under the tongue.

Such claims were too good to be true, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

On Tuesday, the commission charged four companies with deceptively marketing weight-loss products, asserting they made “unfounded promises” that consumers could shed pounds simply by using their food additives, skin creams and other dietary supplements.

The four companies — Sensa Products, L’Occitane, HCG Diet Direct and LeanSpa — will collectively pay $34 million to refund consumers. They neither admitted nor denied fault in the case.

The case is part of a broader crackdown on companies that the government says “peddle fad weight-loss products.” Linda Goldstein, the chairwoman of the advertising and marketing division at the law firm Manatt, Phelps & Phillips, said the settlements made clear that the commission would accept only double-blind, placebo-controlled studies to document the medical effectiveness of diet regimes.

The commission is also proposing new guidance for media outlets to help them catch potentially fraudulent claims. The FTC said it would urge media companies not to accept advertisements that make dubious weight-loss claims.

“Resolutions to lose weight are easy to make, but hard to keep,” Jessica Rich, the director of the commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said in a statement. “And 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. The science just isn’t there.”

The weight-loss industry has exploded in recent years. Consumers are expected to spend about $66 billion this year on diet soft drinks, health club memberships, dietary supplements and other products aimed at weight loss, according to Marketdata Enterprises.

But that growth comes with potential pitfalls. Weight-loss products accounted for 13 percent of the fraud claims submitted to the FTC in 2011, the most recent data available. That is more than twice the number in any other category.

The FTC’s latest initiative, called “Operation Failed Resolution,” follows a series of enforcement efforts in recent years against unfounded weight-loss schemes.

In 2004, the commission announced “Operation Big Fat Lie,” charging six companies with false marketing. Among the fraudulent products that year was Himalayan Diet Breakthrough, a diet pill containing Nepalese mineral pitch, a pastelike material that “oozes out of the cliff face cracks in the summer season” in the Himalayas. The seller, AVS Marketing, claimed that users could lose as much as 37 pounds in eight weeks while still consuming unlimited amounts of food.

In 1997, “Operation Waistline” targeted seven companies that marketed the weight-loss properties of products like “Fat Burners” diet supplements, “Svelte-Patch” skin patches, and “Slimming Soles” shoe insoles. Separately, the FTC has also pursued dozens of cases against companies operating fake news sites that promote the weight-loss characteristics of acai berries.

Over the last decade, the FTC has also lobbied the media industry to stop accepting ads for weight-loss products whose claims are too good to be believed. That year, the commissioned announced its Red Flag education campaign for media companies to help them spot dubious weight-loss claims.

Read more: NY Times

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