When my generation was younger, our parents and teachers often told us that if something looked too good to be true, it likely was. In today’s marketing environment, where we suffer a barrage of claims from traditional sources like television and radio, along with an endless stream of targeted promotions in every social media channel, that statement may ring true more than ever. No area of marketing shows any more proof of the widespread abuses of misleading advertisement than health, fitness and weight loss.
This practice has existed for years, yet has steamrolled in the last decade. In the 1960’s and 70’s, Listerine, a mouthwash, was promoted as being able to prevent and cure the common cold as well as dandruff. The FTC later found those claims to have zero credibility, and the makers of Listerine were forced to spend $10 million on ads refuting their previous claims. Back in the 50’s and 60’s, even cigarettes bragged of their health benefits and slimming properties, including that one brand that promoted they were the one preferred by doctors!
LEGAL WOES WITH THE FTC
In the last several years, claims have accelerated with regards to weight loss. Just this year, the FTC brought an action against a company, Cure Encapsulations, Inc. and its owner, Naftula Jacobowitz, for creating fake reviews for their product, Garcinia Cambogia Extract with HCA. L’Occitane was ordered by the FTC to refund $450,000 to customers who purchased their skin cream that was claimed to slim the user’s body just by application, no exercise or diet plan needed. Sensa was forced to pay $26.6 million back to customers who purchased their product, which they claimed was clinically proven to cause substantial weight loss without dieting or exercise, averaging 30 pounds in six months, just by sprinkling their product on your food.
In February of this year, the FTC and Maine AG’s office refunded $3.5 million to consumers of Original Organics products that falsely claimed quick and easy weight loss, and alleged their claims were backed up by scientific studies. LeanSpa was fined $7 million for a product they promoted, an acai berry and “colon cleanse”, that purported to help the user lose weight without diet or exercise. Reebok paid a $25 M fine to resolve charges that the company deceptively advertised “toning shoes,” which it claimed would provide extra tone and strength to leg and buttock muscles, just by wearing their shoes, claims that were unfounded. Skechers paid $40 M to settle similar claims. Many of these companies created websites that looked like legitimate media outlets, where their products were endorsed in a seemingly valid capacity, often showing celebrity endorsements that were fake as well. Each one of these products utilized the phrase “clinically proven” in their marketing.
So, just how can this happen? They can’t say it in an ad if it isn’t true, right? Even after all of these fines and court findings, we are still besieged with ads for products with similar claims. If you’ll notice, most of these products have a disclaimer at the end, something like “these claims have not yet be evaluated by the FDA”. With the number of new products required testing and evaluation, the FDA may take several years to properly test these products, so the manufacturers and sellers have a window to market with impunity. They will eventually be caught and punished, but the lure of big and easy money convinces many to risk it. An FTC’s attorney said the following-“Some ads for weight loss products promise miracles. They might say that the product works for everyone or will let you lose weight permanently. Those claims are lies. Dishonest advertisers will tell you anything to get you to buy their product. They might have images of “doctors” in their ads and even “news” reports to make you believe that the product works.” The problem has become so rampant, the FTC has created a website to give consumers the truth. Click here to view. Another resource is the FTC’s page “The Truth Behind Weight Loss Ads. Click here to view.
. Doctor Oz and The U.S. Senate
Is there ANY valid shortcut to fitness, healthiness or weight loss? There’s probably no better answer than the one TV’s Dr. Oz provided to the U.S. Senate, under oath. Oz has been associated with numerous “lose weight quickly and easily” products, but was questioned about the products he directly or indirectly endorsed. “Do you believe there’s a miracle pill out there?” asked Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), the chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee that invited Oz. “There’s not a pill that’s going to help you long term lose weight without diet and exercise,” Oz said.
Two other subjects in the discussion took even stronger positions. “American consumers unrealistically yearn for a magic bullet, and unscrupulous marketers will take advantage of these desires,” said C. Lee Peeler, vice president of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “People want to believe you can take an itty-bitty pill to push fat out of your body,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) told Oz. But “the scientific community is almost monolithically against you.”
When all is said and done, one must burn around 3,500 more calories than is taken in to burn a single pound of body fat. The math doesn’t lie, and no product on the market can bypass the science behind how our bodies function and change. Exercise and a smart, healthy eating plan are the only proven answers to the question “How can I lose weight and get fit?”