The Diet Workshop, Inc., a franchisor of weight loss plans and products, and the owner of its company-operated territories “Diet Workshop” have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they engaged in deceptive advertising by making unsubstantiated weight loss and weight-loss maintenance claims and by implying without substantiation that the consumer testimonials they used represented the typical experience of dieters on the programs. The proposed settlement would prohibit the two respondents from misrepresenting the results of any weight loss program they offer, require them to have scientific data to back up any claims about weight loss and maintenance, and mandate that they make certain disclosures in connection with maintenance and other claims.
Waltham, Massachusetts-based The Diet Workshop, Inc. franchises its weight loss program and product businesses in 17 East Coast and Midwest states and the District of Columbia. This is the latest in a series of FTC law enforcement cases announced since 1991 that target advertising for weight loss and diet programs and products.
“Every year, about 8 million Americans sign up for weight loss programs that offer a quick and easy way to solve their weight problems. But there is no quick fix or easy answer to losing weight,” said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Advertising that suggests that there is misleads consumers,” she said. “In order to lose weight and keep it off, consumers need to modify their diets and their lifestyles.”
According to the complaint detailing the charges, advertising for Diet Workshop’s programs included claims such as:
The FTC alleged that through the use of such claims, Diet Workshop represented that most customers would reach their weight loss goals and maintain their weight loss long-term or permanently. In fact, according to the FTC, Diet Workshop has no substantiation to support those claims or claims that consumers could reach their weight loss goals in a specified period of time. In addition, according to the complaint, testimonials that appeared to reflect the typical or ordinary experience of people on the program are misleading. In addition, in some instances, clients’ weight loss has significantly exceeded their goals -- indicating that they may not have been consuming all the food prescribed by their diet instructions. In light of its practice of monitoring people on their program, Diet Workshop should have disclosed to these clients that failure to consume all the food prescribed could result in health complications, the complaint says.
The proposed order to settle the charges would prohibit Diet Workshop from misrepresenting the performance of any weight loss program and would require that it have reliable scientific evidence to substantiate claims about achieving or maintaining weight loss, or the rate at which the loss could be expected to occur. Moreover, the proposed settlement sets out standards for the type of evidence that would be required to support various maintenance claims. For instance, claims about maintaining long term loss would have to be based on evidence of consumers followed for at least two years.
In addition, any ad claims the respondents make about maintaining weight loss would have to include the statement: “For many dieters, weight loss is temporary.” Weight loss maintenance claims in all but short broadcast ads would have to be accompanied by disclosures regarding the actual experience of Diet Workshop customers. Short broadcast ads would have to direct consumers to check with the company’s local centers for detailed maintenance statistics. The proposed settlement also would bar the misleading use of testimonials and would require any atypical testimonial to be accompanied by a disclosure that the result is not typical or a statement as to what the generally-expected success is for program participants. The settlement also would require that Diet Workshop disclose that failure to consume the total calories recommended for a specific weight-loss plan could pose health risks.
Finally, Diet Workshop would be required to assure that its franchisees comply with the terms of the settlement.
The Commission vote to accept the proposed consent agreement for public comment was 5-0. The proposed consent agreement will be published in the Federal Register shortly and will be subject to public comment for 60 days, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. Comments should be addressed to the FTC, Office of the Secretary, 6th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does 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 $10,000.
The FTC has two brochures, “The Skinny on Dieting,” and “The Facts about Weight Loss Products and Programs,” that are available free to consumers. Copies of those brochures and of the complaint and consent in this case are available from the FTC’s 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 news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710. FTC news releases and other materials also are available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web site at: http://www.ftc.gov
(FTC File No. 932 3176)