FTC helps media with weight ads


    By Lindsey Stimpson

    In response to the overwhelming inundation of advertisements, the Federal Trade Commission launched the “Red Flag” campaign to help media outlets better screen impractical ads of weight-loss products.

    “Red Flag: Bogus Weight-Loss Claims,” a media reference guide, marks the culmination of a year of investigation, analysis and public relations planning by the FTC, scientists, weight-loss industry members and media representatives. The guide also marks the beginning of a concentrated effort to educate and encourage media outlets to recognize and voluntarily reject implausible weight-loss advertisements.

    “Unfortunately, there are way too many ads for scientifically impossible weight-loss products in the popular media,” said Timothy Muris, FTC Chairman. “The media should institute screening programs to ”red flag” deceitful weight loss ads and refuse to run them.”

    To jump-start the campaign, the FTC will send thousands of free copies of the “Red Flag” booklet to media advertising staff throughout the nation. The FTC designed the guide to teach media groups how to evaluate weight-loss advertisements through surface rather than in-depth investigations.

    Inspiring the “Red Flag” campaign was a 2002 FTC staff report on weight-loss advertising. The report found despite vigorous FTC law enforcement and consumer education efforts, fraudulent and misleading weight-loss advertising was widespread and on the rise.

    “Lots of advertisements are not lying, just misleading,” said Rick Plenert, fitness professional at Total Health and Fitness in Sandy, Utah.

    “Dieters assume when ads say they [the dieter] will lose 10 pounds in two days that it will be fat loss,” Plenert said. “Often, they will lose ten pounds, but it will be water or muscle loss, and they gain it right back again.”

    Following the initial report in 2002, the FTC sponsored a public workshop that aimed to identify alternative approaches to curbing weight-loss fraud. Among the topics discussed at the workshop were the feasibility of sweeping claims, ideas for self-regulation in weight-loss advertising and the practicality of ad screening.

    The FTC report, released Tuesday, is a product of the workshop and its conclusions. It analyzes the science behind weight-loss claims and makes recommendations for future action.

    “The media can play an important role in educating consumers by providing accurate information about weight-loss programs and weight-loss management products,” the FTC report stated.

    Responding to the campaign release, Dana McClintock, senior vice president of CBS communications said Viacom Television Stations Group agrees with the FTC”s “Red Flag” approach. CBS is a member of the Viacom group.

    According to the FTC, obesity costs the United States $117 billion each year as well as 300,000 lives. In response, Americans spend more than $33 billion annually on weight-loss products and services, according to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

    “Despite claims to the contrary, there are no magic bullets or effortless ways to burn fat,” Muris said. “Claims for diet products or programs that promise weight loss without sacrifice or effort are bogus. Some can even be dangerous.”

    The FTC says responsible behavior, including eating right and exercising, is the only effective way to combat the obesity epidemic.

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