FTC Settles With Four More Diet-Program Companies
in Latest Round of Campaign against Deceptive Advertising
FTC News Release
May 17, 1994
In the latest round of the Federal Trade Commission's campaign against the deceptive advertising of diet programs, the agency today announced settlements with four commercial diet program companies:
- Beverly Hills Weight Loss Clinics International, Inc., based in Portsmouth, RI, and which owns, licenses or is the franchisor of clinics in nine states (West Virginia, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Maine and Rhode Island);
- Doctors Medical Weight Loss Centers, Inc., Doctors Weight Loss Centers, Inc., and Joyce A. Schuman, an officer of these firms, which were based in Fort Lauderdale, FL, and which operated weight-loss centers in Florida;
- Quick Weight Loss Centers, Inc., which was based in Marietta, GA, and corporate officer Don K. Gearheart, who lives in Scottsdale, AZ, the operators of weight loss centers in Georgia; and
- Quick Weight Loss Centers, Inc., which was based in Irving, TX, and corporate officers Don K. Gearheart and Joyce A. Schuman (also named above), the operators of weight-loss centers in Texas.
(Gearheart and Schuman have sold their interests in their companies, and the settlements apply to any future diet program business activity in which they engage.)
The respondents have agreed to settle charges, among others, that they made deceptive claims about how much weight dieters on their programs would lose, how quickly they would lose it, and how long they would keep it off. In addition, the FTC charged, the companies deceptively advertised the price of their programs and failed to warn certain dieters about the possibility of health complications.
The cases bring the total number of FTC law-enforcement actions against the marketers of commercial and liquid diet programs since 1991 to 16. These cases follow on the heels of more than 80 other FTC lawsuits involving phony or deceptively-marketed diet products, such as pills, patches and belts.
The Specific Allegations
According to the complaints detailing the specific allegations in each of today's cases, the companies deceptively represented that their customers typically have been successful in reaching their weight-loss goals and in maintaining the weight loss they achieved either long-term or permanently. Each company also made deceptive representations about the average rate of weight loss for their customers, the FTC charged. The complaints allege that the companies failed to have adequate substantiation to support these representations.
All of the programs have involved a weight-loss monitoring program for dieters, according to the complaints. Based on this monitoring, when it became apparent that some dieters were not eating all the prescribed calories, the companies should have warned consumers that failure to do so could result in health complications, the FTC alleged. In addition, in touting its essential fatty acid dietary supplement "BEV-EFA," the FTC alleged that Beverly Hills Clinics made unsubstantiated representations that its programs are safer than other programs that do not include this supplement. Quick Weight Loss Centers of Texas also falsely advertised that its programs were monitored by health professionals, the FTC alleged.
As to pricing claims, the FTC charged that all of the respondents falsely represented that their advertised prices were the only costs associated with losing weight on their programs. In fact, the complaints allege, each program involved additional mandatory expenses that either were substantial or that far exceeded advertised prices and, in light of the pricing claims, should have been disclosed.
Finally, the Beverly Hills complaint alleges that, by providing ads and promotional materials to its franchisees and licensees, it provided the means and instrumentalities for them to engage in deceptive practices.
The Settlement Agreements
The proposed consent agreements to settle these charges, announced today for public comment, generally would prohibit the respondents from misrepresenting the performance or safety of any diet program they offer in the future. In addition, they would require the respondents to have competent and reliable scientific evidence to substantiate any future claims they make about weight loss, weight-loss maintenance, or rate of weight loss. Moreover, the settlements set out the standards for the types of evidence that would be required to support various maintenance claims. For instance, claims that weight loss is long term would have to be based on evidence of customers followed for at least two years.
In addition, maintenance success claims in most ads would have to be accompanied by various clear and prominent disclosures, including the statement:
"For many dieters, weight loss is temporary."
Additional disclosures would have to be made about the average weight-loss maintenance of consumers on the relevant program (short broadcast ads would be permitted to refer consumers to clinics for details, which must be provided to inquiring consumers in a written "maintenance information" document). The FTC's proposed settlements also would require any testimonials the respondents use to represent the results customers generally achieve, unless the companies clearly and prominently disclose either the generally-expected results or a statement such as, "This result is not typical. You may be less successful."
Future ads containing price representations would have to disclose either all mandatory fees, or a list of the additional products or services consumers will need to purchase, under the settlements. In addition, the companies would have to disclose the amount of all mandatory fees by phone to consumers who call to inquire about the costs. Beverly Hills also has agreed to disclose either all mandatory fees, or a list of the additional products or services consumers must purchase in order to take advantage of any free offers.
The respondents also would be required to disclose to certain customers that failure to eat all the required food or recommended calories in the program may put their health at risk.
Beverly Hills has promised under its settlement with the FTC not to make unsubstantiated comparisons between the efficacy or safety of its programs and those of others. In addition, this settlement requires Beverly Hills to provide all its franchisees and licensees with a copy of the order, contractually require that they comply with its provisions, and cease dealing with those who repeatedly violate the settlement.
Finally, Quick Weight Loss Centers of Texas would be prohibited from misrepresenting whether, or the extent to which, any diet program it offers in the future is supervised or monitored by health care professionals.
The Beverly Hills case is being handled by the FTC's Boston Regional Office; all three of the other cases were handled by the FTC's headquarters staff.
The Commission vote to accept the proposed consent agreements for public comment was 5-0. Commissioner Deborah K. Owen dissented in all four matters as to the exception requiring full numerical disclosures involving quantitative weight loss maintenance claims in short radio and tv ads.
Two free FTC brochures for consumers describe the diet product or program industries and the types of things they offer, list clues to fraudulent products or suggest several questions to ask in evaluating diet programs, and offer some weight-maintenance tips for consumers. The brochures, titled "The Facts About Weight Loss Products and Programs" and "Diet Programs," are available from the FTC.
- (Beverly Hills) FTC File No. 912-3248. FTC Docket No. C-3515.
- (Doctors Medical) FTC File No. 912-3295. FTC Docket No. C-3515.
- (Quick Weight Loss, Georgia) FTC File No. 922-3002. FTC Docket No. C-3515.
- (Quick Weight Loss, Texas) FTC File No. 922-3001. FTC Docket No. C-3515.
This page was posted on August 27, 2006.