The FTC Excercises Its Right

The formula of the excercise equipment infomercials that offer losses of weight and girth is simple. It usually includes the frenetic athlete or inventor, the awe-struck host whose real acting career is waning, an audience replete with other paid actors, and testimonials from folks who seem a bit too perky to be believed.

Ah, but many people do believe; through TV programs and retail outlets, $2.4 billion worth of home excercise equipment was sold in 1996 alone. Those seemingly miraculous abdominal excercisers accounted for the fastest-growing segment in sales, spurred by the mantras of infomercials. And oh, the captivating claims they make.

"Get a Flat, Sexy Stomach in Just 3 Minutes a Day!" claims one. "Burn Over 1,300 Calories an Hour," brags another. Testimonials imply that 60-pound losses are typical for the chubby.

Well, leave it to the federal government to serve up a reality sandwich. The Federal Trade Commission has again taken on the claims of excercise equipment sellers. (One of the FTC's related publications on the subject is called "Pump Fiction.") It found that many of the claims made by four companies were false, exaggerated, unsubstantiated or unwarranted.

Under proposed FTC settlements, the companies or individuals could no longer make such claims without definitive proof. Equipment sellers, for example, could no longer make weight loss and so-called spot reduction claims for specific body areas without substantiation. It should be noted that agreeing to such settlements does not amount to an admission of law violation.

For consumers, the lesson is simple. Beware of the lofty claims, or the big weight loss just might be confined to your wallet.

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