The Federal Trade Commission and Weight Watchers International, Inc. have agreed to settle a case filed by the Commission in 1993 concerning the substantiation for advertising claims made by the company in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The proposed settlement covers future claims, including testimonial claims, about weight loss and weight loss maintenance.
The agreement sets out the types of evidence needed to support Weight Watchers’ future weight loss and weight loss maintenance claims. It would require that claims about maintenance success include additional disclosures about the actual maintenance experience of Weight Watchers’ customers, as well as the statement “For many dieters, weight loss is temporary.” In addition, under the agreement, Weight Watchers would state, in connection with any atypical testimonial about weight loss or maintenance success, the generally-expected success for program participants or indicate that dieters should not expect to experience similar results. Finally, the company has agreed to use its best efforts, as detailed therein, to assure that its franchisees comply with the terms of the settlement.
The Commission’s 1993 complaint, which did not challenge the underlying efficacy of Weight Watcher’s program, questioned the adequacy of the company’s substantiation for certain weight loss and maintenance claims made in advertising between 1988 and 1992. Weight Watchers has previously filed an answer to the Commission’s complaint denying these charges.
The Commission vote to announce the proposed order for public comment was 2-1 with Chairman Robert Pitofsky recused and Commissioner Mary L. Azcuenaga dissenting, having found no reason to believe that the law has been violated. An announcement regarding the proposed consent agreement will be published in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement 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.
The FTC has two brochures, The Skinny on Dieting, and Facts about Weight Loss Products and Programs, that are available free to consumers. Copies of those brochures and of the pleadings and agreement in this case, are available either from the FTC’s web site at http://www.ftc.gov or 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. Consent agreements subject to public comment also are available by calling 202-326-3627. To find out the latest news as it is announced, call the FTC NewsPhone recording at 202-326-2710.
Bureau of Consumer Protection
New York Regional Office
150 William Street, Suite 1300
New York, New York 10038
(FTC Docket No. D-9261)