Scaling back on diet deception

The product may be called HCG Platinum, but according to a lawsuit filed by the FTC, the company’s weight loss claims were made of a baser metal.

HCG — human chorionic gonadotropin — is a hormone produced by the placenta.  According to the FTC, the substance has been falsely promoted for years as a short-cut to weight loss.  The defendants sell multiple formulas of HCG Platinum online, via pop-ups, and in retail stores like GNC and Rite-Aid.  Promotional materials feature impressive consumer testimonials and endorsements by celebrity Carmen Electra.  The company also has a prominent marketing presence on social media.

With claims like “Lose up to 1 pound a day,” it’s not surprising that HCG Platinum attracted the attention of thousands of people interesting in shedding weight.  But the defendants’ tactics also caught the eye of the FDA and FTC. The agencies sent them a joint warning letter in November 2011, raising a regulatory eyebrow about their representations.  Despite ad claims that some of the products were homeopathic, the letter warned the company that its products “are not considered homeopathic drug products” under the FDA’s Compliance Policy Guide on the subject.  What’s more, the letter reminded them that advertisers need competent and reliable evidence to back up weight loss promises.

Even in the face of those warnings, the company continued to make astonishing claims for its products.  For example, marketing materials touted “Doug’s” 127-pound weight loss and “Janice’s” drop of 22 pounds in 23 days.  And just to confuse matters more, some of the HCG-branded products contain the fineprint statement “does not contain HCG hormone.”

The FTC’s lawsuit charges that the company doesn’t have sound science to back up its dramatic diet claims.  The complaint also challenges the company’s safety representations and its claim that HCG Platinum has been clinically proven to burn fat, cause weight loss, and reduce cholesterol.

The lawsuit names two corporate defendants, company president Kevin Wright, and seven relief defendants the FTC says received money from sales of the HGC products. The case is pending in federal court in Arizona.

If you sell diet products, how do your ads measure up?  Visit the Business Center's Health Claims page for compliance resources.

 

1 Comment

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This is obviously a very high priority for the FTC and FDA. They sent out a Warning Letter in December 2011 and used sufficient staff resources to issue a complaint in less than 2 years.

Still, it lets the defendants know that they agencies are not just going to roll over and go home. They are going to have to start thinking about settlement in the next couple years or so.

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