NordicTrack, Inc., a major marketer of indoor exercise equipment, has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission allegations that it made false and unsubstantiated weight loss and weight maintenance claims in advertising its cross-country ski exercise machine. The FTC alleged that NordicTrack made overstated success-rate claims based on studies that excluded all but a highly-selected group of purchasers.
The settlement would prohibit NordicTrack from misrepresenting weight-loss study results and require it to have competent and reliable evidence to back up weight loss, weight maintenance, and related claims for any exercise equipment it sells.
"This case represents a significant addition to our long record of action against the marketers of weight-loss products and services charged with using misleading techniques to deceive consumers," said Jodie Bernstein, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Millions of consumers are searching for weight-loss products and programs that are proven to work, and NordicTrack appealed to that vulnerability with straightforward, quantifiable success claims. But the FTC alleges that NordicTrack based its claims on faulty surveys, and then mischaracterized the results in its advertising."
NordicTrack, Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of CML Group of Acton, Massachusetts, is based in Chaska, Minnesota. NordicTrack sells various types of exercise equipment to consumers, including its cross-country ski exercisers, which retail for $300 to $2,000. NordicTrack advertises its cross-country ski exerciser in print media, promotional materials, radio commercials and infomercials.
According to the FTC's complaint detailing the charges, the ads at issue contained numerous statements relating to the weight loss and weight maintenance experiences of the NordicTrack owners. In many of the ads, NordicTrack used statistics to represent that research supports its claims, the FTC said. Among the claims challenged by the FTC:
- 70 to 80 percent of consumers who purchased a NordicTrack cross-country ski machine to lose weight lost an average of 17 pounds;
- 80 percent of these purchasers maintained all of their weight loss for at least one year; and
- consumers who use NordicTrack cross-country ski machines for 20 minutes a day, three times a week, lose an average of 18 pounds in 12 weeks.
According to the FTC complaint, NordicTrack based its success-rate claims on studies with various methodological flaws. For example, the results of the studies reflect the experiences of only a highly selected population of purchasers who were able to integrate the NordicTrack cross-country ski exerciser into their regular, weekly, exercise regime, the FTC alleged. One study involved putting 38 participants through a vigorous 12-week exercise program. Moreover, the FTC charged, the studies did not account for participants' dietary habits, and were based on consumers' own reports of their weights.
The proposed settlement of the charges, announced today for public comment, would prohibit NordicTrack from making the following types of claims for any exercise equipment, unless it has competent and reliable evidence to support them:
- the percentage of its customers who have successfully lost weight and maintained the weight loss;
- the number of pounds its customers have lost;
- the percentage of weight loss its customers have maintained;
- the rate or speed at which its customers lose weight;
- the length of time its customers must use the product to achieve weight loss;
- the comparative efficacy of any other weight loss method; and
- the benefits, efficacy or performance of the product in promoting weight loss or weight loss maintenance.
In addition, the order would prohibit NordicTrack from misrepresenting the existence or results of any study or survey relating to weight loss, weight loss maintenance or comparisons with the efficacy of other weight loss methods.
Finally, the proposed order includes various reporting requirements that would assist the FTC in monitoring NordicTrack's compliance.
The Commission vote to approve the proposed consent agreement for public comment was 5-0. The FTC's San Francisco Regional Office handled the investigation.
The proposed consent agreement will be published in the Federal Register shortly and 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 $10,000.
The FTC has published a free brochure for consumers titled "The Facts About Weight Loss Products and Programs." The brochure offers tips and lists phrases and terms to watch out for in advertising.
Copies of the brochure, as well as the complaint, 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, 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 File No. 942 3202)