The marketers of a weight-loss system advertised as using “breakthrough technology” and “personalized supplements” to help consumers permanently lose “20 to 40+ pounds in 40 days” without significantly cutting calories, have agreed to settle a Federal Trade Commission complaint that the claims were deceptive and not supported by scientific evidence.
The court order settling the FTC’s charges bars the sellers of the “NutriMost Ultimate Fat Loss System” from making the deceptive claims alleged in the complaint, as well as providing others, including franchisees, with the means of deceiving consumers. The defendants also will pay $2 million to provide refunds to consumers defrauded by buying the system directly from the defendants, not from franchisees.
According to the FTC’s complaint, since fall 2012, NutriMost, LLC; NutriMost Doctors, LLC; and their owner Raymond Wisniewski deceptively marketed the NutriMost weight-loss program to consumers. Sold at Wisniewski’s eight locations in the Pittsburgh area and by franchisees and licensees nationwide, the NutriMost System was marketed as using a new technology that would allow users to safely lose substantial amounts of weight – typically 20 to 40 pounds or more in 40 days.
On their websites, on Facebook, and in traditional radio and newspaper ads, the defendants claimed the NutriMost System does not involve a restrictive diet, causes permanent weight loss, and helps users burn between 2,000 and 7,000 calories of fat per day. Claiming that the system would “Turn OFF fat storage and Turn ON fat burning,” the defendants charged consumers $1,895 for the program.
The system was promoted, without appropriate support, as “having the technology to access nearly every factor of fat burning, fat storage and metabolism,” using a scan to address the “body’s top organ stressors, as well as find the best products to balance those . . . stressors.” What the defendants allegedly failed to say, however, was that to achieve the weight loss advertised, users would have to follow a restrictive diet, including a very low-calorie diet of about 500 calories a day. Only after they bought the system were consumers told of the extreme caloric restrictions, the FTC alleges.
The complaint charges the defendants with using endorsements and testimonials for the system without disclosing that the endorsers had material connections to the defendants or their franchisees. The FTC also alleges that the defendants required buyers to sign a contract agreeing not to make any negative statements or comments about the NutriMost System, and that if consumers violated this requirement, they would have to pay the defendants $35,999. Finally, the defendants also allegedly provided program licensees and franchisees with the means to violate the FTC Act by giving them misleading and deceptive marketing materials, as well as the form contract containing the gag clause prohibiting negative reviews.
The order settling the FTC’s complaint prohibits the defendants from making weight-loss and health claims unless they are not misleading and are supported with competent and reliable scientific evidence. It also bars the defendants from misrepresenting that users do not need to follow a restrictive diet.
Next, it requires the defendants to disclose that their program includes a diet of less than 800 calories a day, if it does, and, if defendants make any representation regarding the safety of a program that includes a diet of less than 800 calories a day, then they must also disclose that physician monitoring is required to minimize the potential for health risks.
The order prohibits the defendants from using deceptive endorsements in their marketing materials and from including non-disparagement clauses in their contracts. It also bars them from providing others with the means of making deceptive statements regarding weight-loss products or programs. Finally, it imposes a $32 million judgment against the defendants, which will be suspended based on defendants’ financial condition after they pay $2 million for consumer refunds.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and to approve the stipulated proposed order was 2-0. The FTC filed the complaint and proposed order in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The FTC received assistance in investigating this case from Pittsburgh’s Better Business Bureau serving Western Pennsylvania.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated court orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.