Message of the HCG Platinum case: Test your mettle before making weight loss claims

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It’s called human chorionic gonadotropin and it’s a hormone produced by the human placenta – which explains why marketers call it HCG when advertising it for weight loss. The FTC just settled a second case against a company that pitched homeopathic HCG drops as an easy way to drop the pounds.

Selling the products at GNC, Rite Aid, Walgreens, and on their own sites, Utah-based HCG Platinum, Right Way Nutrition, and Kevin Wright claimed consumers would lose substantial weight by placing the HCG drops under the tongue before meals – oh, and by sticking to a very low calorie diet. Consumers forked over between $60 and $85 for a 30-day supply of the product, which also was advertised on Facebook, in magazines, and through pop-up ads.

The $1 million settlement prohibits the defendants from making a host of specific diet claims. It also requires them to have at least two adequate and well-controlled human clinical studies to support other weight loss representations.

The FTC’s lawsuit shouldn’t have come as a surprise to the defendants. In November 2011, the FDA and FTC staff send them a letter warning that their products were mislabeled drugs under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. The letter also reminded them of the need to back up their weight loss claims with sound science. It appears that warning went unheeded, leading the FTC to file a lawsuit in 2013.

What's the takeaway for other companies? Marketers shouldn’t have to be told twice. Evaluate your practices carefully if you get a regulatory heads-up. A warning from two agencies? You do the math. Savvy sellers take a second step and read other people’s mail. By that, we mean they take a look at warning letters sent to other companies and review their claims accordingly.


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