Weight-loss firms fined for deceptive claims

The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on companies making “deceptive” claims about weight-loss products. The companies have been making claims that consumers could shed their weight just by taking food supplements or by using skin creams.

Of interest, the weight-loss industry is set for an explosive growth, with consumers expected to spend a whopping $66 billion in 2014 on efforts to lose weight.

The New York Times says the four companies – Sensa Products, L’Occitane, HCG Diet Direct, and LeanSpa – will together refund $34 million to consumers. They neither admitted nor denied their fault, the paper says.

The Times says the explosive growth of the weight-loss industry comes “with potential pitfalls,” as weight-loss products “accounted for 13 percent of the fraud claims submitted to the F.T.C. in 2011.” The paper says: “That is more than twice the number in any other category.”

USA Today quotes Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s consumer protection bureau, who said, “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,” adding, “The science just isn’t there.”

The Los Angeles Times says one of the firms, Sensa Products, has to return $26.5 million “to consumers who bought its product because the company used faulty science in its marketing to mislead consumers.” In a statement, Sensa “said it was incorporating changes to its advertising to comply with the FTC order and defended its products.”

The AP reports the Federal agency will also “collect $7.3 million from LeanSpa, a company that promotes acai berry and ‘colon cleanse’ weight loss supplements through fake news websites.” In addition, “skin cream maker L’Occitane and HCG Diet Direct, which sells unproven hormones for weight loss,” also agreed to repay customers to settle the charges.

Meanwhile, CBS News highlights the various steps the companies will take to make amends under the settlement, in addition to paying the fines.

Sensa Products part-owner and creator Dr. Alan Hirsch and CEO Adam Goldenberg “are banned from making any future weight-loss claims about dietary supplements, foods, or drugs unless it is supported by two controlled, human clinical studies.”

LeanSpa “can no longer bill consumers for products or services on a recurring basis unless they opt into that option.” The company also can’t claim in the future that any of its products help cause significant weight loss unless it provides supporting evidence from at least two clinical trials.

L’Occitane, which agreed to pay a $450,000 fine, also can’t “claim any of its products have slimming qualities unless” they are supported by at least “two reliable scientific human clinical studies.”

NBC News says that in addition to collecting a fine on behalf of consumers, FTC is also taking the unusual step of “asking newspapers, magazines, television and other media outlets to stop carrying false and misleading ads.”

Moreover, the agency is publishing “some common sense guidelines to help consumers and media ad-buyers spot the most outrageously false claims,” reports NBC.

For instance, the agency says, consumer should be wary of claims that says “lose weight with our miracle diet patch or cream.”

In response, the FTC warns there is “nothing you can wear or apply to your skin that will cause you to lose weight.”

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