Announces "PROJECT WORKOUT" Law Enforcement and Consumer Education Campaign
Marketers of some of the most popular exercise equipment on the market today have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations that they made exaggerated weight-loss claims in their infomercials or other product advertising. According to the FTC, touting the purported weight-loss benefits of exercise equipment seems to be the newest pitch in advertising campaigns for these products. The four settlements are part of "Project Workout," a campaign to slim down exaggerated claims for fitness equipment and educate consumers about how to evaluate advertising for these products. Three of the settlements are with the makers of several brands of exercise equipment, including the Abflex, an abdominal exerciser; the Lifecycle, a stationary bicycle; and the Cross Walk Treadmill, a motorized treadmill. The fourth settlement is with Kent & Spiegel Direct, Inc., the producer of the infomercial for the Abflex abdominal exerciser.
Project Workout is the second phase of the FTC's "Operation Waistline" -- a long-term campaign that involves both law-enforcement and consumer-education elements and that is designed to ensure that consumers get accurate and reliable information about weight-loss products and programs. The law-enforcement aspect of Project Workout targets advertising and promotional materials making statements such as "Get a Flat, Sexy Stomach in Just 3 Minutes a Day!" or "Burn Over 1300 Calories an Hour!" and other statements that allegedly promise more than the products can deliver in terms of losing weight. The FTC also has challenged the deceptive use of testimonials, in which consumers make such statements as, "I've taken off over 60 pounds," or "I went from a size 12 down to a size 8," thereby implying that their experience is typical.
"Exercise equipment historically has been sold for its general fitness and aerobic benefits," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, "and many exercise devices are excellent for that purpose. Recently, however, the Commission has investigated many exercise equipment companies for pushing the purported weight-loss benefits of their products. Consumers are likely to find ads that promise mega results for minimum effort extremely compelling. The FTC's message for consumers is: while exercise is a key to achieving and maintaining weight loss, substantial weight loss also requires a reduction in calories."
Manufacturers sold $2.4 billion worth of exercise equipment to retailers or directly to consumers in 1996, according to industry estimates -- a 4.4 percent gain in sales of fitness equipment for home use over 1995, with treadmill sales accounting for the greatest dollar volume. Abdominal exercisers were listed as the fastest-growing product category, with the rise in sales spurred by infomercials, sources said.
Generally, the four cases announced today by the FTC focus on various weight-loss success, rate-of-weight-loss, spot-reduction and calorie-burning claims. The settlements are with:
- Abflex, U.S.A., Inc., based in Carlsbad, California, and its president Martin Van Der Hoeven. Abflex, U.S.A. developed the Abflex and participated in the creation of the ads. Van Der Hoeven invented the Abflex device, licensed the patents and trademarks, and appears in virtually all Abflex ads;
- Kent & Spiegel Direct, Inc., based in Culver City, California, and its principals, Marsha Kent and Peter Spiegel. Kent & Spiegel -- one of the leading infomercial production and distribution companies in the United States -- has marketed the Abflex primarily via an infomercial and TV commercials, print ads in national magazines, newspapers and catalogs, and on the Internet's World Wide Web. (Kent & Spiegel and its fulfillment house take customer orders by telephone and mail.);
- Life Fitness, based in Franklin Park, Illinois. Life Fitness markets a variety of exercise equipment, including stationary exercise cycles, stairsteppers, and treadmills. The Lifecycle stationary bicycle is a staple at health clubs nationwide, with smaller versions available for home use. Life Fitness advertises nationally through direct mail and print ads in publications such as Sports Illustrated. Home-use Lifecycles can be purchased directly from Life Fitness and from many retailers. (The Life Fitness Companies L.P., a limited partnership and Life Fitness' general partner, based in Franklin Park, Illinois, has also agreed to be bound by the terms of the consent order.); and
- Icon Health and Fitness, Inc., IHF Capital, Inc., and IHF Holdings, Inc. (collectively below, Icon), based in Logan, Utah. Icon, which bills itself as the world's largest manufacturer of home fitness equipment, manufactures and markets a wide variety of equipment including treadmills, stairsteppers, weight benches, and "riders." Products can be ordered directly from Icon or bought from large and small retailers. The FTC's investigation focused on Icon's "Proform Cross Walk Treadmill" line of motorized treadmills that can be adjusted to run at different speeds and inclines. Icon advertised the Cross Walk Treadmill nationally through infomercials, TV spots, print ads and on a website on the Internet.
These four cases follow on the heels of the FTC's 1996 action targeting the weight-loss claims of another well-known fitness equipment maker, NordicTrack, Inc. (see Feb. 15, 1996 release).
The FTC complaints detailing the charges against these companies and individuals allege that they did not have adequate substantiation for the claims that they made for the various products. Specifically, the FTC alleged that the Abflex ads claim, among other things, that users could achieve the specific weight-loss and spot-reduction results depicted simply by using the Abflex device "Just 3 Minutes a Day." Similarly, Icon and Life Fitness represent that users of a treadmill or an exercycle could burn approximately 1,000 calories per hour in ordinary use. In addition, the FTC alleged that some of the companies made unsubstantiated claims that the testimonials used in their ads reflected the typical experiences of consumers who use their products, and falsely claimed that scientific studies proved the claims made.
Under the proposed consent agreements to settle these allegations, announced today for public comment, the companies and individuals would be prohibited from making a variety of claims without competent and reliable evidence. Specifically, Icon, Life Fitness, and The Life Fitness Companies L.P. would be prohibited from making weight-loss claims, calorie-burning claims, and fat-burning claims for any exercise equipment without adequate substantiation. In addition, Life Fitness and The Life Fitness Companies L.P. would be prohibited from misrepresenting the results of any test, study, or research relating to calorie burning, fat burning, or weight loss. Also, the companies and individuals who marketed the Abflex device would be prohibited from making weight-loss and spot-reduction claims for the Abflex, or for any other weight-loss product or exercise equipment, without adequate substantiation.
Finally, some of the companies and individuals also would be subject to order provisions requiring that testimonials in their advertising materials either represent the typical or ordinary experience of consumers, or include disclosures of what the generally expected results would be or some statement making clear that consumers should not expect to experience similar results.
As part of the consumer education component of Project Workout, the FTC has produced two publications: "Pump Fiction: Tips for Buying Exercise Equipment," and a questionnaire, "What's Your Exercise I.Q." These materials offer tips to consider and questions to ask before purchasing exercise equipment, including:
- Remember that no exercise device can burn fat off a particular part of your body. To turn a "beer belly" into a "six pack stomach," you must combine sensible eating with regular exercise that works the whole body.
- Be skeptical of outrageous claims. Shaping up is hard to do. Ads that promise "easy" or "effortless" results are false. And many ads that make big claims about the number of calories you'll burn also may be deceptive.
- Think twice about dramatic testimonials or before-and-after pictures from satisfied customers. These may not be typical. Celebrity endorsements don't necessarily mean the equipment is right for you, either.
The consumer education materials were produced in cooperation with several leading sports and fitness organizations: the American College of Sports Medicine, the American Council on Exercise, the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, and Shape Up America! Consumers can get more information on this topic by visiting the FTC's ConsumerLine on the Internet at www.ftc.gov or writing to the Consumer Response Center, FTC, Washington, D.C. 20580.
The Commission votes to accept three of the consent agreements for public comment were 5-0. The Commission vote to accept the consent agreement for public comment in the Life Fitness matter was 4-1, with Commissioner Mary L. Azcuenaga dissenting. The FTC's San Francisco Regional Office conducted the investigations in these cases.
Summaries of the consent agreements will appear in the Federal Register shortly. The agreements will be subject to public comment for 60 days, after which the Commission will decide whether to make them final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
NOTE: Consent agreements are for settlement purposes only and do not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $11,000.
Copies of the complaints, proposed consent agreements and analyses of the agreements to assist the public in commenting on these cases are available on the Internet at the FTC's World Wide Web Site at: http://www.ftc.gov or by calling 202-326-3627. FTC documents are also available from the Public Reference Branch, Room 130, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580; 202-326-2222; TTY for the hearing impaired 1-866-653-4261. To find out the latest FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC's NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(Icon Health and Fitness; Life Fitness)
Laura Fremont, 415-356-5270
Jeffrey Klurfeld, 415-356-5270
(Abflex, Kent & Spiegel -- FTC File No. 962 3041)
(Icon -- FTC File No. 962 3045)
(Life Fitness -- FTC File No. 962 3042
Office of Public Affairs
(Abflex, U.S.A., Inc.; Kent Spiegel)
San Francisco Regional Office
901 Market Street, Suite 570
San Francisco, California 94103