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FTC Sues Weight-Loss Company Over 'Deceptive' Ads

Dec 6, 2002 | Los Angeles Times

The amazing weight-loss claims for the popular Body Solutions formula went on an instant fast after the Federal Trade Commission sued the marketer of the product for alleged deceptive advertising.

The FTC and two states, Texas and Ilinois, sued Mark Nutritionals Inc., a San Antonio company, and its officers, for the company's "false and unsubstantiated" claims that its products would produce weight loss without diet or exercise.

"They are claims that from a scientific perspective are not possible," said FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection chief J. Howard Beales. Mark Nutritionals blanketed the nation's radio waves with weight-loss ads using the familiar and persuasive voices of radio personalities on more than 650 stations in 110 cities, the FTC said, and booked more than $190 million in sales since 1999. The company claimed its Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss Formula bedtime drink would burn away fat while people slept, and that consumers could still keep eating pizza, tacos, nachos and doughnuts, the agency said.

In one of the company's ads, cited by the FTC, a radio voice says: "It helped me lose 36 pounds and it helps me maintain through the holidays. I mean, I ate so much over Thanksgiving, I still have turkey burps. But thanks to Body Solutions, I keep the weight off and now I'm ready for Christmas."

Beales said he expects a federal judge to sign an order requiring Mark Nutritionals to remove the words "weight loss" from the name of its product. Mark Nutritionals filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September.

The company said Thursday it agreed to change its ads to address the FTC's concerns. "We are moving forward with a new way to promote and advertise our product," said Mark Nutritionals' acting CEO Larry Cochran.

The FTC suit was filed in U.S. District Court in San Antonio. The company denied in the agreement that it broke any law.

The FTC said that in the past decade many ads have become more misleading in their claims and the agency implored the nation's major media outlets to do more to police advertisements to protect the public.

Dr. David Heber, professor of medicine and director of the University of California, Los Angeles Center for Human Nutrition, agreed with the FTC that advertising standards are too lenient, particularly, he said, on radio and on television infomercials.

Federal statistics, and various weight loss experts, show that between 50 million and 70 million Americans are trying to lose weight. Obesity has become the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States, behind smoking. And this has helped spawn a $30 billion a year weight-loss industry.

Most experts agree that losing one or a pound and a half of weight a week is a reasonable goal that can be reached by moderately reducing food intake and by doing light exercise, such as walking, on a regular basis.

Bonnie Jortberg, program director of the University of Colorado's weight loss program, said the Body Solutions ads were so convincing in part because they used familiar radio voices that consumers had come to trust. "With radio, there's also no visible evidence. No one really sees these people," Jortberg said.

The Body Solutions ads, "really play off the American passion for a quick fix. It just sounds great. Poof, there go the pounds," Jortberg said.

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