The Federal Trade Commission's case-by-case approach to challenging deceptive practices and weight-loss claims in the diet industry has provided substantial improvements in truthful advertising and continues to provide significant benefits to consumers, the FTC said today in a letter to the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The FTC's statement was in response to a petition from CSPI and several other groups asking the Commission to require by rule that commercial weight- loss centers make certain pre-sale disclosures relating to program costs, duration, efficacy and safety. Agreeing with petitioners about the importance of accurate weight-loss information for consumers, the Commission advised CSPI that FTC staff will consider convening a public conference to explore ways to increase pertinent information but denied the request to conduct the rulemaking. In its statement, the Commission said that the possible added benefits of conducting a rulemaking would not outweigh the costs, given the improvements in truthful advertising achieved by case-by-case enforcement and the prospect of further exploring the petitioners' issues in a public conference.
The petition was filed with the FTC on May 29, 1996, by The Center for Science in the Public Interest; The American Society of Bariatric Physicians; The Association of Schools of Public Health; The Association of State and Territorial Public Health Nutrition Directors; The Consumer Federation of America; The National Consumers League; The National Council on Aging; Public Voice for Food and Health Policy; Assemblyman Alexander Gromack; and George L. Blackburn, M.D.
The petitioners allege that the commercial weight-loss clinics typically fail to disclose pertinent information such as the total cost and duration of treatment; the credentials of the program staff; the efficacy of the program; and the potential health risks of rapid weight loss -- important information that consumers need in order to make an informed decision when choosing a weight loss program.
The Commission's letter denying the petition notes that the FTC "agrees that it is vitally important that diet programs make truthful claims to consumers about weight loss, weight maintenance, safety and other matters. ... However, the Petition does not offer sufficient empirical or other evidence for this proposition to warrant commencing a costly rulemaking proceeding."
The Commission has advised the petitioners that the Bureau of Consumer Protection will assess the merits of holding a public conference to explore ways to increase the availability of pertinent information to consumers in the market for a diet center program.
The Commission vote to deny the petition for rulemaking was 5-0. The FTC has issued several consumer brochures on dieting and fraudulent weight loss products and programs.
Copies of the petition and the Commission's response, as well as the consumer brochures, 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 FTC news as it is announced, call the FTC's 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 Matter No. P874918
The American Society of Bariatric Physicians -- a professional organization comprising of over 900 members representing the interests of physicians who treat obesity in their private practices;
The Association of Schools of Public Health -- represents accredited graduate schools of public health;
The Association of State and Territorial Public Health Nutrition Directors -- an organization that provides national and state leadership on food and nutrition policy, programs and services. The Association conducts communication, education and research to strengthen food, nutrition and health policy, programs and services;
The CSPI -- a professional staff of scientists, nutrition educators, journalists and lawyers concerned with the effect of science and technology on society, particularly with regard to matters involving food safety and nutrition. National membership is approximately 800,000;
The Consumer Federation of America -- approximately 240 membership groups -- represents national, regional, state and local consumer groups to promote their common interests and gather and disseminate information on consumer issues;
The National Consumers League -- about 800 members -- encourages citizen participation in governmental and industrial decisionmaking affecting the interests of consumers;
The National Council on Aging -- affiliated with the National Interfaith Coalition on Aging and through NICE's 600 members is concerned with the problems of aging and the spiritual well-being of the aging;
Public Voice for Food and Health Policy -- concerned with issues relating to food and health taken up in public and private decisionmaking;
Assemblyman Alexander Gromack --New York State Assemblyman from the Westchester area; and
George L. Blackburn, M.D. -- director of the Center for the study of Nutrition Medicine at New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston.