The Federal Trade Commission has just settled a lawsuit against four weight loss companies, forcing them to pay over 34 million dollars in restitution for lying to us. The companies busted by “Operation Failed Resolution” are:
Sensa: They claimed that sprinkling their powder on your food would help you “get a gym body without going to the gym.”
L’Occitane: Claimed using their cream would help people lose 1.3 inches in 4 weeks.
HCG Diet Direct: said you could lose 7 pounds in 7 day by consuming drops of a diluted hormone produced by the human placenta (oh, and also eating an extremely low calorie diet)
LeanSpa, LLC: Sold acai berry and colon cleanse products and supplements.
How did they lie to us? Let me count the alleged ways according to the FTC press release:
- Deceptively advertised that the powdered food additive Sensa enhances food’s smell and taste, making users feel full faster, so they eat less and lose weight, without dieting, and without changing their exercise regime. The defendants did not have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support these claims
- failed to disclose the fact that some consumers were compensated for their endorsements of Sensa. In some instances, compensation included payments of $1,000 or $5,000, and trips to Los Angeles
- Dr. Hirsch – who conducted two of the studies cited in the ads and wrote a promotional book about Sensa – gave expert endorsements that were not supported by scientific evidence, and provided the means for the other defendants to deceive consumers. The defendants falsely cited Dr. Hirsch’s studies as clinical proof that consumers could lose substantial weight without dieting or exercise. The defendants also allegedly misrepresented their role in a third study.
Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection said “Resolutions to lose weight are easy to make but hard to keep. And the chances of being successful just by sprinkling something on your food, rubbing cream on your thighs, or using a supplement are slim to none. The science just isn’t there.”
The truth is that the science isn’t there for any method of weight loss. “Eat less and exercise more” has no more scientific basis than sprinkling something on your food. The chances of all diets working long-term are slim to none. I’ve listed some research about this at the bottom of this post, but I encourage people to do the research for themselves. That’s how I ended up practicing Health at Every Size, I had bought into the idea that weight loss was the only path to health and, having failed at so many diets regardless of how hard I tried, I started a massive literature review to find the “best” diet, the one that was successful the most.
Imagine my surprise when I discovered that there wasn’t a single study where more than a tiny fraction of people had succeeded at long term weight loss, and there was absolutely no study where even a tiny fraction of people had lost as much weight as I was told I needed to lose to be “healthy.” But I did find good research that showed that, knowing that health is not entirely within our control and that there were no guarantees, behaviors are a much better predictor of future health than body size.
The FTC has developed guidelines for spotting fraudulent weight loss claims, but I think an easy test to know that diet companies are making fraudulent claims is that their lips are moving. I hope that the FTC keeps going after diet companies, but my true hope is that the companies go out of business because people stop buying what they are selling and spend that sixty billion on something else. In the meantime I’m happy about this step in the right direction.