McCaskill Takes Aim at Diet Scams that are 'a crisis in consumer protection'

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Protecting Consumers from False and Deceptive Advertising of Weight-Loss Products
McCaskill Takes Aim at Diet Scams That Are 'A Crisis in Consumer Protection'

McCaskill Takes Aim at Diet Scams that are 'a crisis in consumer protection'


United States Senate

Subcommittee on Consumer Protection

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill

June 17, 2014

McCaskill Takes Aim at Diet Scams that are ‘a crisis in consumer protection'

Chair of Consumer Protection panel poses tough questions to TV host Dr. Oz on claims about ‘miracle’ products and urges media to do more to screen for false advertising

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill today took aim at weight-loss diet scams that she said represent “a crisis in consumer protection”—using a hearing in the Consumer Protection panel that she leads to pose tough questions to popular TV host Dr. Mehmet Oz on his frequent claims about “miracle” products, explore options for regulators and industry to crack down on deceptive practices, and urge media outlets to strengthen screening of false advertising.

“We’ve all heard and seen the ads, promising quick and substantial weight-loss if only you take this pill, drink this shake, use this device, or apply this cream,” said McCaskill, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance. “All without adjusting diet or increasing physical activity. It seems too good to be true—and of course it is.”

Click HERE to view photos from today’s hearing.

McCaskill questioned Dr. Oz about his role, “intentional or not—in perpetuating these scams,” quoting three specific examples of statements Dr. Oz has previously made on his program:

  • “You may think magic is make believe, but this little bean has scientists saying they’ve found the magic weight loss cure for every body type. It’s green coffee extract.”
  • “I’ve got the number one miracle in a bottle to burn your fat. It’s raspberry ketone.”
  • “Garcinia cambogia: It may be the simple solution you’ve been looking for to bust your body fat for good.”

“I can’t figure this out, Dr. Oz,” McCaskill said. “I get that you do a lot of good on your show. I understand that you give a lot of information that’s great information… you’re very talented and you’re obviously very bright. You’ve been trained in science-based medicine… I don’t get why you need to say this stuff when you know it’s not true. When you have this amazing megaphone, why would you cheapen your show?... With power comes a great deal of responsibility.”

Oz defended his endorsement of green coffee beans—citing a clinical study which McCaskill criticized as being funded by the product’s manufacturer—and also defended the featuring of alternative medicines on his show, including the “power of prayer.”

“Well, but prayer’s free,” McCaskill countered. “You don’t have to buy prayer.”

“Yes, that’s a very good point,” Oz acknowledged, later admitting, “I’ve used flowery language… which was meant to be helpful, but wound up being incendiary and provided fodder for unscrupulous advertisers… I realize that for my colleagues at the [Federal Trade Commission], I have made their job more difficult,” and agreed, “I need to be a part of this [solution]… I want to play a role.”

Republican Senator Dean Heller of Nevada acknowledged the problem, citing the potential for widespread confusion “when a person they believe has credibility on the issue makes a claim,” and Oz also agreed to a request from former Connecticut Attorney General and Senator Richard Blumenthal to “help drain the swamp” of deceptive advertising of such products.

The FTC’s Mary Koelbel Engle, Associate Director of the Division of Advertising Practices, agreed: “When consumers see products and ingredients marketed in sophisticated ways on respected media outlets and praised by people they trust, it can be difficult for them to listen to their internal voices telling them to beware. That is why we have long sought the partnership of the media to screen deceptive diet ads before they run.”

McCaskill also noted that the problem of deceptive advertising—a problem former prosecutor and Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota labeled “seductive” for many consumers—is not new. The FTC filed its first weight-loss case in 1927, when McGowan’s “Reducine” claimed in True Romance magazine that “excess fat is literally dissolved away, leaving the figure slim and properly rounded, giving the lithe grace to the body every man and woman desires.” Since then, the FTC has filed more than 250 cases challenging false and unproven weight-loss claims, including four settlements announced in January and a complaint filed in federal court last month against sellers of a Green Coffee Bean dietary supplement.

Further discussion at the hearing centered on guidance issued earlier this year to publishers and broadcasters on how to spot phony weight-loss claims when screening ads for publication.

Other witnesses at today’s hearing included: C. Lee Peeler, President and CEO of Advertising Self-Regulatory Council; Steven Mister, President and CEP of the Council for Responsible Nutrition; Robert Hatton Haralson IV, Executive Director of TrustInAds.org; and Dr. Daniel Fabricant, Executive Director and CEO of the Natural Products Association.

Read more about McCaskill's fight to protect American consumers, HERE.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).