Body Wise International, Inc., based in Carlsbad, California, has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it made deceptive weight-loss and cholesterol-reduction claims for its nutritional supplements. The FTC also charged Body Wise with failing to disclose that healthcare professionals and others who gave testimonials for the products also were product distributors and therefore had a financial interest in promoting them. The proposed settlement would prohibit Body Wise from making false claims that a food, drug, or nutritional supplement helps users achieve or maintain weight loss without diet or exercise. It also would bar unsubstantiated weight-loss, weight-loss maintenance, cholesterol-reduction, or other health- benefits claims for such products. And it would prohibit the deceptive use of consumer testimonials or professional endorse- ments, and require clear disclosures of any financial connection between the endorsers and Body Wise or its products.
- "Diets Don't Work. Body Wise Does!";
- "Results That Can Last a Lifetime";
- "My patients are doing exceptionally well on this pro- gram. My staff and I marvel at their lab results, weight loss and improved overall well-being. Personally, I have lost 15 pounds and lowered my cholesterol 45%."
Through these and other statements, the FTC charged, Body Wise has represented that its weight-loss products will enable consumers to lose weight without dieting and to maintain significant long-term or permanent weight loss. The FTC alleged, however, that the first claim is false and that Body Wise did not have adequate evidence to support the second claim.
Another Body Wise product, "Cardio Wise," was promoted for significantly reducing cholesterol. The advertisements and endorsements for Cardio Wise contained such statements as:
- "Cardio Wiseþ is one of the miracles in nutrition offered by Body Wise for a cholesterol conscious America. It focuses on the use of Niacin...because it expands the blood capillaries...[and] has been found effective in...lowering the level of cholesterol in the blood";
- "In rigorous studies, biologically active chromium has been shown to: 'Lower both total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol'"; and
- "I reduced my cholesterol over 100 points."
Through the use of such statements, the FTC charged, the company has represented that the ingredients in Cardio Wise significantly reduce serum cholesterol and that scientific studies have proven that fact. The FTC alleged that Body Wise did not have adequate evidence to support these claims.
The FTC charged also that the testimonials from physicians, other health care professionals and consumers included in Body Wise ads represented that they reflected the typical or ordinary experiences of Body Wise customers when, in fact, they did not.
Additionally, the FTC charged, Body Wise did not disclose in its advertising or promotional literature that the endorsers, who also are part of Body Wise's multi-level distributor network, have a financial interest in promoting the sale of the products.
Indeed, according to the complaint, Body Wise actively recruits physicians and other health-care professionals as distributors and directs them to endorse the products directly to consumers on behalf of other Body Wise distributors. These facts would be material to a consumer's decision to purchase Body Wise's products and the failure to disclose them was deceptive, the FTC charged.
The proposed consent agreement to settle these charges, announced today for public comment, would prohibit the company from falsely representing that any nutritional supplement, food or drug can -- or contains any ingredient that can -- cause or contribute to achieving or maintaining weight loss without diet or exercise. Further, the proposed settlement would prohibit the respondent from making health-benefits claims -- including weight-loss or cholesterol-reduction claims -- for any such products unless the claims are true and supported by adequate scientific substantiation. The order would permit Body Wise to make any representations permitted under Food and Drug Administration nutrition labeling regulations.
In addition, the proposed settlement would prohibit the respondent from misrepresenting the existence, contents, validity, or results of any tests or studies in connection with marketing any nutritional supplement, food or drug.
The proposed settlement also would prohibit the respondent from representing that any endorsement or testimonial for any nutritional supplement, food or drug represents the typical or ordinary experience of users unless it has evidence to support that the experience is, in fact, typical.
Further, the proposed settlement would require Body Wise to disclose, clearly and prominently, any material connection between the company and the endorser. Body Wise also would be prohibited from disseminating any advertisement containing references to physicians or other health care professionals unless it clearly discloses that physicians or health care professionals who endorse Body Wise's products may be distributors with a financial interest in promoting the sale of the products.
Finally, the proposed settlement includes various reporting requirements that would assist the FTC in monitoring the respondent's compliance.
The Commission vote to approve the proposed consent agree- ment for public comment was 5-0.
The proposed consent agreement will be published in the Federal Register shortly. It will be subject to public comment for 60 days, after which the Commission will decide whether or not to make it final. Comments should be addressed to the Office of the Secretary, Federal Trade Commission, 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 up to $10,000.
The FTC has developed two free brochures for consumers, titled "Diet Programs" and "The Facts About Weight Loss Products and Programs," which list some sensible weight-loss and maintenance tips.
Copies of those brochures, the complaint and proposed consent agreement, and an analysis of the agreement to assist the public in commenting are available from the FTC's Public Reference Branch, Room 130, at the above address.
(FTC File No. 932 3077)