You've probably already heard that weight loss is a $30 billion a year industry. Pills, packaged meals, bars, shakes, gadgets....the list goes on and on. In addition to the multitude of franchise businesses selling the products, there is even an entire industry of online marketing for weight loss products.
If you search the internet for weight loss products, you will come across business ads calling you to "cash in on the $30 billion dollar industry". Product lines are variously endorsed by scientists, celebrities and doctors. Ads for weight loss products are everywhere. Women's magazines almost always have at least one headline on the cover proclaiming the 5 foods you must eat to lose weight, or the 5 foods you must not eat or some other dramatic weight loss claim.
The Federal Trade Commission Weighs In
In September of 2002, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a report titled: Weight-Loss Advertising: An Analysis of Current Trends. The organization, assisted by the Partnership for Healthy Weight Management, analyzed weight loss advertising to determine what was being promoted, in what manner and how often.
It was the intent of the research to determine the extent of false and misleading advertising for weight loss products and services. They attempted to get a broad sampling that would represent all manner of media in which consumers would be exposed to the ads.
The Role of the Media in Weight Loss Advertising
Almost a year earlier, in December of 2001, The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Prevent and Decrease Overweight and Obesity had been published. That document described the challenge of managing obesity not only as a personal challenge, but also a community responsibility.
The Call to Action charged the media with "encouraging truthful and reasonable consumer goals for weight loss programs and weight management products. The 2002 FTC report intended to clarify whether the media was "promoting positive reliable messages about weight loss through advertising".
The Results of the Investigation into Weight Loss Advertising
As you probably guessed, the investigators found "rampant" misleading and deceptive claims. They declared nearly 40% of their sample to contain representations that were "almost certainly" false.
The commission also reported that consumers who fall for the deceptive advertising suffer not only financially by wasting money on products that do not work as claimed, but also medically in that they postpone the necessary lifestyle changes that are known to be beneficial for lessening the ill effects of being overweight.
Misleading and false ads were found prominently in newspapers and mainstream magazines such as tabloids. The researchers concluded that it was important to encourage the media to weed out deceptive weight loss claims, and that asking for substantiation of claims was reasonable.
They went on to emphasize the importance of consumers educating themselves about the importance of a healthy weight, and being skeptical of quick-fix promises.
While there has been considerable regulation placed on the online advertising community recently, there are still a multitude of marketers who have no qualms about promoting false claims, and the facts from the report as well as the conclusions are still surprisingly true today.