The Federal Trade Commission on Tuesday cracked down on Sensa Products, an El Segundo company that sells a weight-loss powder that users sprinkle on food to help curb their appetite.
The powder, which is marketed as activating the part of the brain that helps control appetite, is said to make users feel fuller faster so they eat less.
Federal regulators, however, weren't buying the pitch.
Sensa Products now has to return $26.5 million to consumers who bought its product because the company used faulty science in its marketing to mislead consumers, the FTC said. Federal regulators also announced a settlement with two other companies over the marketing of weight-loss products.
"Resolutions to lose weight are easy to make but hard to keep," said Jessica Rich, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "And the chances of being successful just by sprinkling something on your food, rubbing cream on your thighs or using a supplement are slim to none. The science just isn't there."
In television commercials for Sensa, set to the tune of KC and the Sunshine Band's "Shake Your Booty," the company claimed that 1,400 users — mainly women — lost an average of 30.5 pounds in a six-month study.
The FTC said the study and claims by Sensa Products were based on faulty science. The settlement accused Sensa Products, its parent firm Sensa Inc., and two individuals — Adam Goldenberg, chief executive of the parent company and Alan Hirsch, a doctor who is part owner — of deceptive advertising.
Users paid $59 for a one-month supply of Sensa products, which were sold online and at retail chains that included Costco Wholesale Corp. and GNC Corp. U.S. retail sales from 2008 to 2012 totaled more than $364 million, regulators said.
The FTC also said the company paid consumers in cash and with travel for their endorsements of the product. It said Hirsch, who conducted studies cited in the ads and wrote a promotional book, gave expert endorsements that were not supported by science.
In a statement, Sensa said it was incorporating changes to its advertising to comply with the FTC order and defended its products. The company said the settlement does not include admission of wrongful conduct.
"We stand behind Sensa," Kristin Chadwick, Sensa Products' chief executive, said in a statement. "We continue to receive positive feedback from our customers and remain committed to developing products that help our No. 1 priority — our customers — live healthier, happier lives."
Media inquiries to Costco and GNC were not immediately returned Tuesday.
The agency also accused two other companies of deceptive marketing: L'Occitane Inc., which claimed that its skin cream would help users lose fat, and HCG Diet Direct, for marketing a human hormone used to lose weight.
L'Occitane, regulators said, claimed in a 2012 advertising campaign that its Almond Beautiful Shape cream could "trim 1.3 inches in just 4 weeks" and that another product, Almond Shaping Delight, has "clinically proven slimming effectiveness." The beauty company will pay $450,000 to federal regulators.
The judgment against HCG Diet Direct has been suspended because of its inability to pay, the FTC said.
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