FTC Jogs Memory of Supplement Marketer

The marketers of “BrainStrong Adult” dietary supplements have settled charges brought by the Federal Trade Commission that its TV and online advertisements are deceptive.

The FTC said Monday that supplement marketers i-Health and Martek Biosciences Corp. had claimed their product "was clinically shown to improve adult memory," but that the study they used to back up that claim was deficient.

“Supplement marketers must ensure that adequate scientific proof supports their specific advertising claims,” said Jessica Rich, director of the Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. “When the results of a scientific study don’t match the hype, consumers are likely to be misled.”

In one TV ad, a woman forgets why she walked into a room, which was to find her sunglasses, which are on her head. “Need a memory boost?" asks the ad, which then makes the claim for clinical proof of the product's memory boosting powers.

The companies don't have to pony up any money, but they are prevented from claiming that any supplement, food or drug promoted to improve memory, or stem its loss, can do so "unless the claim is truthful and supported by human clinical testing...[T]he companies cannot claim they have clinical proof to support their claims when they do not." The settlement "prohibits claims about the health benefits, performance, safety, or effectiveness of [those] products unless the claims are backed up by competent and reliable scientific evidence."

The vote was 3-1 with commissioner Maureen Ohlhausen dissenting in part. She said the study appeared to substantiate the claims and the FTC was applying too tough a standard. "The fact that some experts may disagree with the conclusions of a well-conducted study does not render that study unreliable or incompetent, nor make claims based on the study unsubstantiated," said Ohlhausen.

"I dissent in part from today’s action because it imposes an unduly high standard of substantiation on a safe product."

The FTC has made cracking down on bogus health claims for dietary supplements and weight-loss products a priority.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.