Updated: Sep 27
Between 2004 and 2014 alone, the FTC initiated 82 legal actions against players in the weight loss industry for making false or deceptive claims, collecting more than $100M in consumer restitution.
The battle of the bulge has a $79B industry behind it that depends on desperate, die-hard dieters to keep its shareholders happy. Segments of the industry we support with our money, hope, and trust include:
Weight loss programs
Meal replacement products
Supplements touting fat burning and metabolism-revving benefits
Exercise videos and subscriptions
Foods promoted as low-fat, low-sugar, low-carb
Multi-level marketing channel products
Diet books, DVDs, and apps
Diet sodas and shakes
Where there is profit to be made, there will be companies that skirt ethical, legal, and moral lines to gain a competitive advantage. Many lawsuits have been filed against manufacturers of weight loss products for making false or misleading claims, among other misdeeds. One may surprise you.
Muscletech Research and Development
Muscletech Research and Development had to cease the production of its diet pill Hydroxycut when the FDA banned the use of the stimulant ephedra, which was one of its main ingredients. Ephedra’s side effects include heart palpitations, elevated blood pressure, nausea, and vomiting. Among the 800 or so dangerous outcomes from the use of this drug are heart attacks, strokes, seizures, and sudden death. Hydroxycut was later reformulated to rely on high caffeine content, after which many consumers began complaining about elevated heart rate, elevated blood pressure, and loss of sleep in addition to kidney, cardiovascular, and liver problems.
In 2018, weight loss supplement marketer Roca Labs was sued by the FTC for threatening to sue consumers who posted negative reviews about its products online or file them with the Better Business Bureau. The FTC also alleged that the company made “false or unsubstantiated weight loss claims and failed to disclose [its] financial ties” to a site where consumers posted positive reviews.
In 2014, the marketer of Sensa was fined $26.5M because, as the FTC claimed, the company “deceived consumers with unfounded weight loss claims and misleading endorsements” when it stated that sprinkling the product on food would aid weight loss. Sensa paid the fine but admitted no wrongful conduct.
A Flurry of Lawsuits
Around the same time as Sensa’s fairy dust lawsuit, several other companies were sued: HCG Diet Direct, which marketed an unproven human hormone that was supposed to aid in weight loss; L’Occitane, which touted the slimming effect of its skin cream without supporting evidence; and LeanSpa, LLC, an operation that (it’s alleged) deceptively promoted acai berry and “colon cleanse” weight loss supplements through fake news websites.
The Weight Loss Industry Sues Itself
Rivalry among competitors has even led to the diet industry suing itself. In 2010, Weight Watchers sued Jenny Craig, alleging misleading advertising. Admitting no wrongdoing, Jenny Craig agreed to stop running ads that claimed that its weight loss results were twice as effective as its rival’s.
Tired of going to court, and as a warning to consumers, the FTC published “The Truth Behind Weight Loss Ads,” which did not mince any words. Following are excerpts from that article. This may be helpful to refer to the next time you hear a promise about weight loss that appears too good to be true (it probably is).
FTC: The Truth Behind Weight Loss Ads
Dishonest advertisers will say just about anything to get you to buy their weight loss products.
Here are some of the (false) promises from weight loss ads:
Lose weight without dieting or exercising. (You won’t.)
You don’t have to watch what you eat to lose weight. (You do.)
If you use this product, you’ll lose weight permanently. (Wrong.)
To lose weight, all you have to do is take this pill. (Not true.)
You can lose 30 pounds in 30 days. (Nope.)
This product works for everyone. (It doesn’t.)
Lose weight with this patch or cream. (You can’t.)
Here’s the truth:
Any promise of miraculous weight loss is simply untrue.
No product will let you eat all the food you want and still lose weight.
Permanent weight loss requires permanent lifestyle changes, so don’t trust any product that promises once-and-for-all results.
Products promising lightning-fast weight loss are always a scam. Worse, they can ruin your health.
Even if a product could help some people lose weight in some situations, there’s no one-size-fits-all product guaranteed to work for everyone. Everyone’s habits and health concerns are unique.
Nothing you can wear or apply to your skin will cause you to lose weight. Period.
This article excerpts content originally appearing in Goddesses Don’t Diet: The Girlfriends’ Guide to Intermittent Fasting.