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FTC Files Suit Against Diet Company

Jan 2, 2002 | UPI

The Federal Trade Commission filed suit Thursday against a bankrupt Texas company accused of marketing and selling diet products that the agency said carried deceptive claims.

The FTC charged Mark Nutritionals Inc. of San Antonio, Texas, made false and unsubstantiated claims on its Body Solutions Evening Formula weight loss products. According to the government's complaint, the company used both English and Spanish testimonials made by radio disc jockeys that were played on more than 650 radio stations in 110 cities across the United States. J. Howard Beales III, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the deejays made statements claiming, thanks to Body Solutions, "I can have my bacon, sausage and grits and still lose weight" and "I no longer look like an offensive lineman, but I can still eat like one."

Through the company's Web site and the radio ads, Mark Nutritionals claimed Body Solutions offered dieters a unique way to shed unwanted pounds while sleeping without restricting calories or exercising.

"Our action today should send a strong message that we will pursue such claims where ever they appear," Beales said at a news conference.

The FTC charged Mark Nutritionals has earned more than $190 million in sales of Body Solutions products since 1999, and in the complaint the government alleged the company directly profited from the 30-to-60-second radio spots.

The agency had requested a preliminary and permanent injunction against the company and Mark Nutritionals has agreed to the preliminary injunction, Beales said. The preliminary injunction, when signed by the judge, will forbid the use of the term "weight loss" anywhere on the product.

No action, for the moment, is being taken against the disc jockeys or the radio stations that ran the ads, Beales said. The FTC also is seeking consumer redress as yet undetermined because of the company's bankruptcy Beales said. Mark Nutritionals filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September.

"I don't know how much it will be but I think it's a very real possibility we'll get significant redress for consumers," Beales said. The bottom line is that products claiming diet and exercise aren't needed to lose weight are blatantly false, he said. "We think pills, potions and lotions do not work and will not help you lose weight."

The lawsuit was led by Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who also led the investigation against Mark Nutritionals.

"To claim as they do that a person can take this product at night, avoid vigorous exercise and a disciplined diet and lose a lot of weight in the process just stretches the boundaries of both imagination and reality," Abbott said in a statement.

Consumers who used the Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss Formula were supposed to fast for three hours and then drink the product before going to bed. It is sold at popular retail chain stores, including Wal-Mart, Eckerd, K-Mart and Walgreens. The FTC complaint said the formula claims consumers will lose as much as 20 to 40 pounds without diet or exercise, can continue to eat high-calorie foods including pizza and donuts, and the weight loss is permanent.

Larry Cochran, acting chief executive officer of Mark Nutritionals, said his company currently is financing scientific studies on its Body Solutions products so their claims can be backed up with clinical evidence.

"The agreement (with the FTC) is really about how we're going to advertise or market Mark Nutritional's Body Solutions going forward," Cochran told United Press International. "I think it's a good thing for us, it's a good thing for consumers, it's a good thing for the industry and I welcome it."

Cochran said the agreement with the FTC is not an admission of any wrongdoing on the company's part. He also said the FTC will allow the company to use its existing inventory, but all future Body Solutions products containing the words "weight loss" will be substantiated. "If it has 'weight loss' on the label," Cochran said, "it has to be backed by scientific studies."

This action will raise the bar across the board, Cochran said. "I think it raises the watermark," he said.

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