staff of the Federal Trade Commission today announced its “Red Flag” education
campaign to assist media outlets voluntarily to screen out weight-loss product
ads containing claims that are too good to be true. The announcement is the
culmination of a workshop held on November 19, 2002, and meetings with trade
associations and individual media outlets over the last year. To support the
voluntary initiative, the FTC released a media reference guide entitled “Red
Flag: Bogus Weight Loss Claims.”
“Unfortunately, there are way too many ads for scientifically impossible
weight-loss products in the popular media,” said FTC Chairman Timothy J. Muris.
“The media should institute screening programs to ‘red flag’ deceitful
weight-loss ads and refuse to run them. To help media advertising staff identify
bogus claims, we’re providing thousands of free copies of the ‘Red Flag’
The media reference guide builds upon the FTC’s staff report,
“Deception in Weight-Loss Advertising Workshop: Seizing Opportunities and
Building Partnerships to Stop Weight-Loss Fraud,” also released today. The staff
report provides an overview and analysis of the workshop discussion and relevant
Background – 2002 Weight Loss Product Advertising
September 2002, the FTC staff issued a report on weight-loss advertising that
concluded that, despite vigorous FTC law enforcement and consumer education
efforts, fraudulent and misleading weight-loss advertising was widespread and on
the rise. Following up on that report, in an effort to identify alternative
approaches to curbing weight-loss fraud, the FTC held a public workshop on
deception in weight-loss product advertising on November 19, 2002. The goal of
the workshop was to explore new approaches to stop false weight-loss
advertising. Participants in the workshop included, among others, scientists
with expertise in the study and treatment of overweight individuals and obesity,
weight-loss industry members, and media representatives. The workshop consisted
of three panels. The first panel considered whether certain weight-loss claims,
such as claims that promote substantial weight loss without reducing caloric
intake or increasing exercise, are feasible. The second panel considered ways to
improve industry self-regulation of weight-loss advertising. The final panel
focused on the feasibility and challenges of ad screening.
FTC staff report issued today summarizes the proceedings of the November 2002
weight-loss advertising workshop and the pre- and post-workshop public comments,
provides an analysis of the scientific feasibility of the eight weight-loss
claims considered during the workshop, and offers recommendations for future
staff report concludes that the claims are not scientifically feasible at the
current time for nonprescription drugs, dietary supplements, creams, wraps,
devices, and patches, and that further guidance would assist the media in
screening out these bogus claims. As a result, to assist in media screening, the
FTC produced the reference guide released today. The reference guide is designed
so that media outlets can screen out weight-loss ads through simple facial
review, rather than in-depth investigation.
centerpiece of the FTC campaign is educational guidance to the media that
identifies seven common weight-loss claims made for products available
over-the-counter, including nonprescription drugs, dietary supplements, creams,
wraps, devices, and patches that are scientifically infeasible at the current
time. These claims include:
- Causes weight loss of two pounds or more a week for a month, or more
without dieting or exercise.
- Causes substantial weight loss, no matter what or how much the consumer
- Causes permanent weight loss (even when the consumer stops using the
- Blocks the absorption of fat or calories to enable consumers to lose
- Safely enables consumers to lose more than three pounds per week for more
than four weeks.
- Causes substantial weight loss for all users.
- Causes substantial weight loss by wearing it on the body or rubbing it
into the skin.
know that no publication or station wants to print or air false weight-loss
claims,” Chairman Muris said. “This booklet provides specific examples of bogus
claims, along with explanations that will allow media advertising personnel to
avoid bogus weight loss claims and stop them before they injure consumers. We
encourage the media to use it.”
The Commission vote to release the staff report was 5-0.
the FTC staff weight-loss report are available from the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov and also
from the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue,
N.W., Washington, D.C. 20580. The FTC works for the consumer to prevent
fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices in the marketplace and to
provide information to help consumers spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a
complaint, or to get free information on any of 150 consumer topics, call
toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1 877-382-4357), or use the complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov. The FTC
enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft, and other fraud-related
complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to
hundreds of civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.