ASRC President Testifies on Weight-Loss Products Before Senate Commerce Subcommittee

C. Lee Peeler, President and CEO, Advertising Self-Regulatory Council, and EVP, Council of Better Business Bureaus,  testified Tuesday, June 17,   before the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety and Insurance at a hearing to address “Protecting Consumers from False and Deceptive Advertising of Weight-Loss Products.”

Mr. Peeler described the self-regulatory system and the work of the Better Business Bureau in addressing false or misleading advertising claims for weight-loss products and highlighted in his presentation the industry trade associations that have embraced the self-regulatory system’s strong standards for truth and accuracy.

Below, an excerpt from his testimony. You can read the full text here.

Advertising Self-Regulation and Weight-loss Claims

Truthful and substantiated advertising for weight-loss products, diets and exercise devices that work can be of substantial assistance to consumers seeking to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

Misleading, unsubstantiated or exaggerated advertising claims – often for products promising quick, effortless weight loss – have the opposite effect, causing both health and economic injury to consumers.

In addition to harm done to consumers, these types of claims also injure honest competitors who promote effective products and whose ads acknowledge the difficulty consumers may face in losing weight and sustaining weight loss.

Misleading advertising both misappropriates sales that would otherwise go to legitimate products and services and undermines the credibility of advertising generally, making it more expensive for honest advertisers to reach their audiences.
Recognizing these twin harms, two industry trade associations – The Electronic Retailing Association (ERA) and the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) – have stepped forward to fund impartial monitoring and oversight of advertising claims, including a substantial number of weight-loss claims.

In 2004, the ERA funded the development of the ERSP program, which provides independent monitoring of all direct-response advertising for a wide range of products, including weight-loss products.

Since its founding, the ERSP program has issued more than 350 decisions, often requiring modification or discontinuance of the challenged advertising. Almost one-third of all ERSP cases have involved weight-loss claims.

In 2006, CRN provided the National Advertising Division with funding for an attorney who would concentrate on monitoring advertising claims for dietary supplements.  Since 2006, NAD, through this initiative, has examined advertising claims made for 164 separate supplements, including 30 weight-loss products.

Although the majority of advertisers comply with the recommendations of the self-regulatory system, those who decline to participate in an ERSP or NAD review or refuse to implement recommended changes are referred to the most appropriate federal regulatory agency, most often the FTC.