After determining that as many as 40 percent of advertisements for weight-loss products contain false statements, the Federal Trade Commission may revisit its guidelines for dietary supplement advertising.
At a Nov. 19 weight-loss product advertising workshop, the FTC and industry experts, academics, and consumers will meet to assess the impact of print and broadcast ads and to help articulate guidelines that would better protect consumers from false claims.
"There needs to be more guidance," said Laguna Niguel, Calif.-based Imaginutrition founder Anthony Almada, who reviews health claims made in some ads that appear in The Natural Foods Merchandiser.
In 2000, Americans spent $35 billion on supplements, treatments, videos, tapes, books, medications, foods and other related goods and services to help them lose weight or prevent weight gain, the FTC said in its report, "Weight-Loss Advertising: An Analysis of Current Trends."
The commission examined 300 ads that appeared between February and May 2001 and determined nearly 40 percent contained at least one statement that was almost certainly false, including exaggerated claims of weight loss without diet or exercise.
"People who make outlandish claims without research are damaging the industry," said Tom McCartney, a spokesman for Kearny, N.J.-based Pharmachem Laboratories Inc., which makes Phase 2 Starch Neutralizer, an ingredient used in weight-loss products. "We are very cautious and have chosen to do studies and not to use emphatic terms like starch blockers. And we're saying it's not a magic bullet; you do need to watch your diet and exercise," McCartney said.
Almada said it will take a high-profile case—like the 2000 FTC action in which Enforma Natural Products Inc. was forced to return $10 million to consumers of its Fat Trapper supplement, which was endorsed by baseball great Steve Garvey—to make broadcasters and publishers more closely scrutinize advertising.
"If a big publisher were popped, it would be an interesting, public crucifixion," Almada said. "I don't know if it will happen, but it should."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 11/p. 11