FTC Diet Fraud Testimony Challenges Weight-Loss Industry

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently testified before Congress about its efforts to combat deceptive and fraudulent weight-loss product claims. The testimony focused on the agency’s efforts to use law enforcement, media influence, and consumer education to alter the status quo surrounding weight-loss products. The FTC reports that $2.4 billion was spent on weight-loss products last year, with little evidence that any of those products had an impact on the obesity epidemic in the U.S.  Nearly 70 percent of U.S. adults are obese or overweight.

Law Enforcement

The FTC testified that in the past 10 years it brought 82 weight-loss related enforcement actions and, since 2010, has collected $107 million for consumer restitution. The agency discussed some of its recent enforcement actions and highlighted new trends in weight-loss product deception, including reliance on erroneous or fabricated studies and the use of trusted spokespeople to legitimize fraudulent products. It offered the example of the Green Coffee dietary supplement which was promoted on The Dr. OZ Show and made overblown claims that those who took the supplement could “lose twenty pounds in four weeks.”

Media

The testimony included commentary on the agency’s relationship with the media and the measures it takes to make major media outlets think twice about running certain kinds of advertisements or promotions, specifically those which experts agree cannot be true. The FTC’s “Gut Check” reference guide lists the seven most outrageous claims, which the FTC says are never accurate. The reference guide is designed to make companies do a “Gut Check” or double take before they run a fraudulent ad.

Consumer Education

The FTC’s message to consumers is that “the only thing they will lose is money if they fall for ads promising quick weight loss without diet or exercise.” The agency’s testimony and its consumer information webpage both echo the thinking that the greatest prevention against consumer fraud is savvy consumers. The commission’s newest attempts to reach out to consumers include an internet game called the “FTC Weight Loss Challenge.” The challenge is designed to help consumers engage in critical thinking about weight-loss products and the claims used to promote them.