Nearly 40% of weight-loss advertisements in a study by US regulators made at least one representation that was almost certainly false, according to a report released last week. And about 55% of the ads included at least one representation that was very likely to be false or lacked adequate substantiation of its promises.
The report urged Americans, who spend billions annually on weight-loss products and services, to look skeptically at ads that promise a quick-fix for dropping pounds, such as "you can eat as much as you want and still lose weight." Consumer testimonials and before-and-after photos were common in diet promotions but "rarely portrayed realistic weight loss," the report said.
The Federal Trade Commission evaluated 300 advertisements from broadcast and cable television, infomercials, radio, magazines, newspapers, supermarket tabloids, direct mail, commercial e-mail and Web sites. The staff also compared 1992 ads from eight national magazines to 2001 ads in the same publications.
False or misleading claims are common in weight-loss advertising, and, based on the comparison of 1992 magazine ads with magazine ads for 2001, the number of products and the amount of advertising, much of it deceptive, appears to have increased dramatically over the last decade.
Many of the ads with likely false claims appeared in mainstream magazines such as Family Circle and Cosmopolitan. The FTC staff did not evaluate whether specific claims were substantiated, but the report said many of the promised effects clearly were unsupported by scientific evidence.
Claims that are too good to be true include assertions that a user can lose a pound a day or more for extended periods; that substantial weight loss, without surgery, can be achieved without diet or exercise; and that users can lose weight regardless of how much they eat.
Consumers must become more knowledgeable about the importance of achieving and maintaining healthy weight, more informed about how to shop for weight-loss products and services, and more skeptical of ads promising quick fixes.
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