FTC Targets Big, Fat Diet Liars

The Federal Trade Commission has filed complaints against six weight-loss marketers in what it is calling "Operation Big, Fat Lie." The operation also includes an online educational "sting" to help consumers better identify bogus claims.

Cited for allegedly false and misleadingly weight-loss claims were marketers of pills, powders, patches, gels and green tea. Although the targets of Big, Fat, Lie were companies that used print ads and internet solicitations, similar products are hawked via TV infomercials.

The FTC in December 2003 gave media outlets a list of "red flag" claims that should automatically trigger reviews by ad-supported media.

According to the FTC, progress has been made.

“Through our monitoring, we have seen a decrease in the frequency of false weight loss claims in the media,” said FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras in announcing Big, Fat Lie. “This tells us that many in the publishing and broadcasting industries are doing the right thing and stepping up their efforts to reject ads like the ones we targeted."

In conjunction with the suits filed against the marketers, the FTC is launching an education campaign that includes trying to lure consumers with a little deception of its own.

It has created a "teaser" Web site (www.wemarket4u.net/fatfoe) that mimics a weight-loss products site, complete with a host of "red flag" bogus claims for FatFoe, a pill promising no sweat, no starvation weight loss, "Guaranteed to work for everyone – regardless of how much you eat, regardless of how much you’d like to lose."

If the consumers take the bait and try to order the product, they are told: "The ad to which you responded is a fake, posted by the Federal Trade Commission to warn consumers about diet rip-offs." They are then shown point by point how the ad was deceptive.

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.