NEW FROM THE FTC — Gut Check: A Reference Guide for Media on Spotting False Weight Loss Claims
FTC COMPLIANCE UPDATE
As part of its enforcement activities in the weight loss arena, the FTC has issued an advisory targeted to media outlets entitled — Gut Check: A Reference Guide for Media onSpotting False Weight Loss Claims
The message from the FTC reiterates what has always been the law, but takes the approach of trying to get media outlets where weight loss ads run to be more attentive to claims and to assist in policing the marketplace.
Here are highlights from the Reference Guide:
“In consultation withexperts, the FTC has come up with a list of seven representations – we call them “gut check” claims – that media outlets should think twice before running.
Why is that “gut check” important? Because:
- no legitimate media outlet wants to be associated with fraud. Accuracy is your company’s stock intrade. Why sully your good name by being known as a publication or station that promotes rip-offs?
- if scammers are willing to cheat consumers, there’s a good chance they’ll cheat you by not paying their bills. By the time fly-by-nighters have made a quick killing, they’ve disappeared – and left you holding a stack of worthless receivables.
- you want to protect loyal readers, listeners, and viewers from bogus products that can’t possibly work as advertised.
- reputable advertisers don’t want to associate their brands with media outlets used by con-artists.
For the most part, the examples we’re talking about apply to dietary supplements, including herbal remedies, over-the-counterdrugs, as well as patches, creams, wraps, and similar products worn on the bodyor rubbed into the skin. They don’t apply to prescription drugs, meal replacement products, low-calorie foods, surgery, hypnosis, special diets, or exercise equipment.
If you spot a “gut check” claim, take a step back and look at the ad from the point of view of the average consumer. Is it really worth tarnishing your reputation by running a false claim?
If one of these seven claims crosses your desk, do a gut check. Consult the appropriate person in your company andthink twice before running any ad that says a product:
- causes weight loss oftwo 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 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 a product on the body or rubbing it into the skin.
You can outfox the fraudsters by understanding what makes each of those claims bogus. Fine-tuning your falsity detector will make it easier for you to spot deception when marketers try to slip a false claim past you by paraphrasing or using synonyms.
CLAIM #1: Causes weight loss of two pounds or more a week for a month or more without dieting or exercise
Meaningful weight loss requires taking in fewer calories than you use. It’s that simple. But it’s also that difficult for people trying to shed pounds. That means ads promising substantial weight loss without diet or exercise are false. And ads suggesting that users can lose weight fast without changing their lifestyles – even without mentioning a specific amount of weight or length of time – are false, too. Some ads might try a subtler approach, say,by referring to change in dress size or lost inches, but the effect is the same. That’s why these variations on that claim should fail your gut check:
“I lost 30 pounds in 30 days – and still ate all my favorite foods.”
“Lose up to 2 pounds a day without diet or exercise.”
“Drop four dress sizes in just a month without changing your eating habits or enduring back-breaking trips to the gym.
“Finally there’s Fat Foe, an all-natural weight loss compound so powerful, so effective, so relentless in its awesome attack on bulging fatty deposits that it eliminates the need to diet.” (Next to the consumer endorsement, “I lost 36 pounds in 5 short weeks.”)
CLAIM #2: Causes substantial weight loss no matter what or how much the consumer eats
It’s impossible to eat unlimited amounts of food – any kind of food – and still lose weight. It’s a matter of science: To lose weight,you have to burn more calories than you take in. To achieve success, dieters have to put the brakes on at the dinner table. If an ad says users can eat any amount of any kind of food they want and still lose weight, the claim is false. That’s why these variations on that claim should fail your gut check:
- “Need to lose 20, 30, 40 pounds or more? Eat your fill of all the foods you crave and watch the weight disappear!
- “Who needs rabbit food? Enjoy any mouth-watering foods you want anytime you want, and blast away dress sizes andbelt notches.”
- “This revolutionary product lets you enjoy all your favorites – hamburgers, fries, pasta, sausage, and even gooey desserts – and still lose weight. One Fat Foe tablet before meals does the work for you and you’ll lose all the weight you want.”
CLAIM #3: Causes permanent weight loss even after the consumer stops using product
Without long-term lifestyle changes – like continuing to make sensible food choices and upping the activity level – weight loss won’t last once consumers stop using the product. Even if dieters succeed in dropping pounds, maintaining weight loss requires lifelong effort. That’s why these variations on that claim should fail your gut check:
- “Take it off and keep it off. Kiss dieting goodbye forever.”
- “Thousands of people have used FatFoe and kept the weight off for good.”
- “It’s not another weight loss gimmick.It’s a unique metabolism accelerator that changes how your body burns fat. Why settle for temporary weight loss when you can get rid of those flabby thighs and that unsightly muffin top once and for all.”
- “No more yo-yo dieting. Eat more.Weigh less. And finally – yes, finally – stay slim for the rest of yourlife.”
CLAIM #4: Blocks the absorption of fat or calories to enable consumers to lose substantial weight
Without lifestyle changes, no over-the-counter product canblock enough fat or calories to cause the loss of lots of weight. To work, even legitimate “fat blockers” must be used with a reduced-calorie diet. That’s why these variations on that claim should fail your gut check:
- “Super Flablock Formula is an energized enzyme that can absorb up to 900 times its own weight in fat. Relax and enjoy rich favorites like ice cream, butter, and cheese,confident that you’ll still blast off up to 5 pounds per week – or more!”
- “Take a StarchBloxIt tablet before meals. It dissolves into a gel that absorbs excess sugars and carbs, preventing them from forming body fat. Eat what you want and still lose weight.”
- “Block fat before your body absorbsit. The pounds and inches will melt away.”
CLAIM #5: Safely enables consumers to lose more than three pounds per week formore than four weeks
Medical experts agree: Losing more than three pounds a weekover multiple weeks can result in gallstones and other healthcomplications. So if an ad says dieters can safely and quickly lose adramatic amount of weight on their own, it’s false. That’s why these variationson that claim should fail your gut check:
- “Take off up to 10 pounds a weeksafely and effectively. Imagine looking into the mirror two months from now andseeing a slim reflection.”
- “Even if you have 40, 50, 60 or morepounds to lose, doctors recommend Fat Foe as the no-risk way to blast off theweight and inches in a few short months. Just in time for bikini season or thatclass reunion.”
CLAIM #6: Causes substantial weight loss for all users
People’s metabolisms and lifestyles are different. So is how they’ll respond to any particular weight loss product. The upshot: No product will cause every user to drop a substantial amount of weight. Any ad that makes a universal promise of success is false. That’s why these variations on a claim should fail your gut check:
- “Lose excess body fat. You can’t fail because no will power is required.”
- “Lose 10-15-20 pounds. Gelaslim works for everyone, no matter how many times you’ve tried and failed.”
- “FatFoe is guaranteed to work for you. Melt away the pounds regardless of your body type or size.”
- “Maybe you want to drop a dress size before that get-together next month or perhaps you need to take off 50 pounds or more. Your search for a weight loss miracle is over. We’ve found the diet supplement guaranteed to work 100% of the time – regardless of how much youwant to lose.”
CLAIM #7: Causes substantial weight loss by wearing a product on the body or rubbing it into the skin
Weight loss is an internal metabolic process. Nothing you wear or apply to the skin can cause substantial weight loss. So weight loss claims for patches, creams, lotions, wraps, body belts, earrings, and the like are false. There’s simply no way products like that can live up to what the ads say. That’s why these variations on the claim should fail your gut check:
- “Ancient healers knew that ametabolism-boosting energy current runs from the earlobe to the stomach, makingit easy to shed 30, 40, even 50 pounds. That’s the secret behind our Dieter’s Earrings. Why starve yourself when an attractive piece of fashion jewelry can do the weight loss work for you?”
- “Rub Melt-X Gel into your problem areas and watch the active ingredient penetrate the skin layers to melt fat at the cellular level. Use Melt-X around your mid-section to whittle a contoured, streamlined waist. You’ll melt away 20 pounds in just amonth.”
- “Slink into those skinny jeans in notime. Our patent-pending body wrap will increase the metabolism around your hips to burn fat faster. You’ll lose 2-3 pounds per week just by wearing the body wrap while relaxing. Blast off 25 pounds in 8 short weeks.”