FTC Action Challenges "Doctor Recommended" Claim
Abbott Laboratories, marketer of Ensure nutritional beverages, has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it made false and unsubstantiated claims in an extensive national advertising campaign that promotes Ensure for healthy, active adults. The FTC alleged that Abbott represented without adequate substantiation that many doctors recommend Ensure as a meal supplement and replacement for healthy adults, including those in their thirties and forties. Abbott has agreed, under the settlement, not to make any claim about the extent to which doctors or other professionals recommend any food or dietary or nutritional supplement, or about any other recommendation, approval or endorsement of such products, unless it possesses competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate the claim.
Abbott Laboratories, based in Abbott Park, Illinois, markets, among other things, nutritional and hospital products, including infant and pediatric formulas and adult nutritional products. Ensure, made by Abbott’s Ross Products Division, is a canned beverage containing carbohydrates, protein, fat, vitamins and minerals. According to media reports, Ensure has gained over 80 percent of the complete-nutrition products market.
“Nutritional beverage products like Ensure may provide a benefit if you have a medical condition that makes it difficult to eat or if you are using them in place of an occasional skipped meal,” said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. “Abbott went too far, however, when it suggested that doctors recommend Ensure for healthy, active people, like those pictured in the ads, in order to stay active and healthy. Before consumers spend their money to use such products as a regular supplement to their diet, they should check with a doctor or nutritionist.”
The "doctor recommended" claim challenged by the FTC ran in national television and print advertising. The FTC complaint, which details the charges, cites several of Abbott’s advertisements which feature active, healthy people, many of whom appear to be in their thirties or forties. The featured adults refer to their own nutritional needs and their doctors’ advice on maintaining good nutrition. The ads include statements such as “Ensure is recommended number one by doctors as a source of complete balanced nutrition.” According to the FTC complaint, the ads represent that many doctors recommend Ensure as a meal supplement and meal replacement for healthy adults, including those in their thirties and forties. The FTC alleged that Abbott did not possess a reasonable basis to substantiate this representation. According to the FTC, a survey of doctors relied upon by Abbott to substantiate its claim was not designed to determine whether many doctors actually recommended Ensure as a meal supplement or replacement for healthy adults, as opposed to for adults who are ill or elderly and may have nutritional deficiencies. According to the complaint, the survey merely asked doctors to assume that they would recommend a supplement for adults who were not ill, and then to select the brand they would most recommend.
Finally, the FTC challenged as false Abbott's representation that one serving of Ensure provides vitamins in an amount comparable to typical multivitamin supplements. According to the complaint, the typical multivitamin supplement provides at least 100% of the recommended daily intake (RDI) of vitamins. At the time the advertisements challenged in the complaint were first disseminated, however, one serving of Ensure provided 62% of the RDI of Vitamin C and between 12% and 26% of the RDIs of the other vitamins for which RDIs have been established. The complaint states that, although Ensure has been reformulated, one serving still provides only 50% of the RDI of Vitamin C and 25% of the RDIs of the other vitamins.
The proposed consent agreement to settle these allegations, announced today for public comment, would prohibit Abbott from making any claim about the extent to which doctors or other professionals recommend any food or dietary or nutritional supplement for healthy adults; or about the recommendation, approval or endorsement of any such product by any person, profession or other entity; unless Abbott possesses competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate the claim.
The order would also prohibit Abbott from misrepresenting that one serving of any Ensure product, or any other product advertised or sold as a meal replacement or supplement for healthy adults, provides vitamins in an amount comparable to typical vitamin supplements, or misrepresenting the amount of any vitamin or any other nutrient or ingredient in such products.
The Commission vote to accept the proposed consent agreement for public comment was 5-0.
An analysis of 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 $11,000.
Copies of the complaint, proposed consent agreement and an analysis of the agreement to assist the public in commenting will be available on the Internet at the FTC’s World Wide Web Site at: http://www.ftc.gov or by calling 202-326-3627 on January 2, 1997. FTC documents are also 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 202-326-2502. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC’s NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
(FTC File No. 962 3069)