Fighting on three fronts: FTC weighs in on weight loss ads

Why do companies sell “miracle” diet pills and potions, promising results that defy the laws of physics?  Why do consumers buy them?  And what is the FTC doing about it?  Those are just some of the topics on the agenda at a congressional hearing today.  If you have clients that sell weight loss products or if you represent media outlets that run those ads, you’ll want to read the FTC’s testimony.

The response to the first question shouldn’t come as a surprise:  There’s money to be made by peddling products that are heavy on the hype, but light on the truth.

Why do consumers buy them?  That’s tougher to answer, but there's no doubt that reasonable people often find weight loss claims to be compelling.

What’s the FTC doing about it?  The testimony outlines the specifics, but we’re waging the battle on three fronts.

Law enforcement.  Whether it’s a powder to sprinkle on food or a cream to slather on skin, advertisers need solid science to support their promises.  In the past 10 years, the FTC has brought 82 law enforcement actions challenging false or deceptive weight loss claims and collected more than $100 million for consumer restitution.

Business guidance.  Another weapon in the FTC’s arsenal is advice for media outlets on how to spot deceptive representations.  That way, publishers and broadcasters can serve as a front-line defense, halting false claims before they run – and before people risk their money and maybe even their health on a worthless product.  Read Gut Check: A Reference Guide for Media on Spotting False Weight Loss Claims for the skinny on seven "can't be true" claims.  Once you've digested that, take the Gut Check quiz to see if you can tell when a marketer is trying to put one over on you and potential customers.

Consumer education.  The third key component in the battle against bogus diet claims is to help "fraud-proof" consumers by cluing them in to common tried-and-untrue representations.  From web warnings to teaser sites, we mix it up when it comes to helping people spot an “oh, no, they didn’t” diet promise.  And now there’s something new.  The Weight Loss Challenge is a three-part quiz available in English and Spanish where consumers can test their slimming scam savvy.  Try it yourself.  How did you score?

Looking for advice on keeping your clients' claims compliant?  The FTC has resources to make that easier.

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