FTC Unveils Weight-Loss Ad Guidelines

WASHINGTON, D.C. The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday issued voluntary guidelines for magazines, newspapers and television networks to follow when screening weight-loss ads for fraudulent health claims.

In the report, “Red Flag: Bogus Weight-Loss Claims,” the FTC suggests there are several claims that the media should watch out for, including copy that suggests weight loss can occur without diet or exercise. Ads claiming that consumers can lose weight and still eat anything they want should also be viewed with suspicion, according to the report.

“More than two-thirds of Americans are trying to lose or maintain their weight,” said FTC commissioner Timothy Muris. “The temptation to try an easy road first is often overwhelming. Of course, false and misleading ads do not cause obesity, but they do…cause consumers to postpone weight-loss action.”

Last year, the FTC released a report that showed a dramatic increase in fraudulent weight-loss ads in the mainstream media. At the time, the FTC said it wanted the media’s help in policing such false ads. But the issue caused concern among magazines, newspapers and TV networks that the FTC would hold them responsible for the false or misleading ads.

Instead, the FTC said it would issue guidelines that would help the media police such ads. Muris said the FTC will also study what effect the guidelines have on diminishing false weight-loss claims, and will issue a report next year.

“The message for consumers today is if an ad sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” Muris said. “Unfortunately, the only way to lose weight is to diet and exercise.”