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Chris Nace
Chris Nace
Attorney • (202) 930-0292

Weight Loss Companies Accused of Fraud

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The New York Times recently reported that the Federal Trade Commission

charged four companies with deceptively marketing weight-loss products, asserting they made “unfounded promises” that consumers could shed pounds simply by using their food additives, skin creams and other dietary supplements.

The four companies — Sensa Products, L’Occitane, HCG Diet Direct and LeanSpa — will collectively pay $34 million to refund consumers. They neither admitted nor denied fault in the case.

We are all looking for that easy, quick weight-loss magic bullet. I think I have an entire cabinet full of GNC products that have let me down. But the Times report and FTC action serve as an important reminder that there are companies out there that will try to take advantage of all of our aspirations to get back to our high school weight.

The weight-loss industry has exploded in recent years. Consumers are expected to spend about $66 billion this year on diet soft drinks, health club memberships, dietary supplements and other products aimed at weight loss, according to Marketdata Enterprises.

But that growth comes with potential pitfalls. Weight-loss products accounted for 13 percent of the fraud claims submitted to the F.T.C. in 2011, the most recent data available. That is more than twice the number in any other category.

It is also important to remember that just because someone has appeared on a major network as a health expert does not mean that a product they are endorsing is the holy grail in weight loss:

For example, one television commercial for Sensa noted that Dr. Alan Hirsch, the creator of the product and a part-owner of the company, had “appeared on ‘Oprah,’ ‘Good Morning America,’ ‘Dateline,’ ‘Extra,’ the CBS ‘Early Show,’ CNN” and in hundreds of magazines and newspapers around the country.

. . . .

But the company failed to disclose that some consumers were paid for their endorsements, the commission said. The F.T.C. also took aim at Adam Goldenberg, the chief executive of Sensa, and Dr. Hirsch, who conducted studies on the product but whose findings “were not supported by scientific evidence.”

The commission imposed a $46.5 million judgment on the company, which sold $364 million of Sensa in the United States from 2008 to 2012. But the company will remit little more than half the settlement amount “due to their inability to pay,” officials said. Sensa officials did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.

The bottom line is that there is no substitute for a healthy diet and exercise when trying to slim down. Be leery if not downright cynical about the magic bullet in weight loss.

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    And about time too!!!