Quick-Fix Exercise Claim Gets Workout From FTC

Reader's Digest Association on hook for bulk of $25 million settlement

The quick-fix exercise pitch of Ab Circle Pro, "only 3 minutes=100 sit ups!" is nothing but pump fiction. To settle Federal Trade Commission charges of deceptive advertising, the marketers of the abdominal exercise device agreed today to pay as much as $25 million in refunds to consumers who shelled out between $200 and $250 for the device.

Reader's Digest Association could be on the hook for most of the settlement because its current and past subsidiaries produced the infomercial. In an SEC filing, the company said it agreed to pay $13.8 million to $23.8 million depending on the amount of refund requests.

The FTC has been on a roll in pursuing overhyped health claims, bringing more than a dozen cases in the last few years—including a $40 million settlement with Skechers in May and a $25 million settlement last year with Reebok.

The settlement with Ab Circle Pro is one of the largest the agency has obtained for an exercise device, said Mary Engle, the FTC's associate director for the advertising practices division. 

David Vladeck, the FTC's director of the bureau of consumer protection, hopes marketers are finally getting the message.

"The FTC reminds marketers that they should think twice before promising a silver-bullet solution to a health problem, whether it involves losing weight or curing cancer," Vladeck said. "Weight loss is hard work and telling consumers otherwise is deceptive."

According to the FTC complaint, Ab Circle Pro, primarily advertised via infomercials between March 2009 and May 2010, promised consumers that three minutes of exercising with the device would lead to a loss of 10 pounds in two weeks. The infomercial featured fitness celebrity Jennifer Nicole Lee, who pitched: "You can either do 30 minutes of abs and cardio or just three minutes a day." Lee said she lost 80 pounds using the device.

Under the settlement, the defendants may no longer claim that the Ab Circle Pro or any similar device is likely to cause rapid and substantial loss of weight, inches or fat. They are also prohibited from making the specific claims that the three minutes a day causes users to lose 10 pounds in two weeks or provides the same exercise benefits as 100 sit-ups, or is equivalent or superior to longer gym workouts or exercise on other devices or gym equipment.

The FTC also came down hard on Lee, who was charged solely for her claim that she lost 80 pounds. She and the two companies she controls can no longer misrepresent that the Ab Circle Pro or any substantially similar device or exercise equipment, food, drug or device contributed to her weight loss. She can also no longer endorse any exercise equipment, food, drug or device unless the endorsement reflects her honest opinion or experience.

The complaint names as defendants Fitness Brands, Fitness Brands International and the two individuals who control them, Michael Casey and David Brodess; Direct Holdings Americas and Direct Entertainment Media Group; infomercial producer Tara Borakos and two companies she controls, Tara Productions and New U; and Jennifer Nicole Lee and two companies she controls, JNL and JNL Worldwide. RDA was also named as a relief defendant. Although the company was not responsible for marketing the product, it did receive proceeds from the advertising from former subsidiary Direct Holdings Americas and current subsidiary Direct Entertainment Group.

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