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:
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:
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.
(Abflex, U.S.A., Inc.; Kent & Spiegel)
San Francisco Regional Office
901 Market Street, Suite 570
San Francisco, California 94103
(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