FTC Pursues Weight-Loss DR Marketer

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The Federal Trade Commission announced false-advertising charges yesterday against a radio direct-response advertiser that used disc jockeys at about 650 radio stations to endorse its product.


Ads for Body Solutions Evening Weight Loss Formula, produced by Mark Nutritionals Inc., San Antonio, made the unsubstantiated claim that the diet supplement would help consumers lose weight while they slept even if they ate a high-calorie diet, the FTC said. The company ran its ads in Spanish and English in 110 cities nationwide, according to the FTC.


Mark Nutritionals has sold $190 million worth of the formula since 1999, according to the FTC. In the radio ads, the company claimed the product would cause consumers to lose 20 to 40 pounds without diet or exercise, a claim that cannot be scientifically proven, the FTC said.


"The scale here and the approach here make this unique in that respect," FTC consumer protection bureau director Howard Beales said. "This is a very large-scale operation compared to a lot of the ones we pursue."


Beales reissued his call for media outlets to be more careful in screening the claims made by weight-loss product marketers in ads, and would not rule out the outlets themselves being held liable. The FTC held a public workshop on weight-loss advertising Nov. 19.


"We don't believe there is any constitutional protection for running false advertising," Beales said.


However, the FTC declined to pursue the individual disc jockeys for their endorsements because "it's just a lot more efficient" to take legal action against Mark Nutritionals and its principals, Beales said.


The company made the product available to consumers via a toll-free number and a Web site, and recently expanded to retail outlets including Wal-Mart, Eckerd's, Kmart and Walgreen's.


The FTC seeks an unspecified amount of money from the company to repay consumers who bought the product as well as a permanent injunction against Mark Nutritionals to bar the company from making false claims. The FTC also is negotiating with the company on a temporary injunction that would remove the words "weight loss" from the Body Solutions product name.


Mark Nutritionals reorganized under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September. Its original principals, Harry Siskind and Edward G. D'Alessandro, who are named in the charges, no longer are affiliated with the company, but the company continues to market the product, the FTC said.


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