Weight Loss Quackery Reaches New Heights

Health Letter, December 2014

By Michael Carome, M.D.

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Image: DVARG/Shutterstock.com

The search for quick-fix weight loss remedies has become a national obsession in the U.S. An endless stream of companies has exploited this obsession by promoting miracle products that promise to take inches off your waist and improve your figure in just a few short weeks, with little or no effort.

But two companies — Wacoal America, based in Lyndhurst, N.J., and Norm Thompson Outfitters, located in Hillsboro, Ore. — recently set a new standard for ludicrous weight loss claims when they promoted caffeine-infused undergarments and sportswear to women as a way to rapidly shed pounds and reduce cellulite (fat tissue that accumulates beneath the skin, most frequently in the hips and thighs).[1] Fortunately, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) got wind of the companies’ misleading advertising and in September demanded that they stop making such claims — unless they had valid scientific evidence — and pay hefty fines to the agency, which can be used for customer restitution.[2]

According to complaints prepared by the FTC, both companies sold women’s undergarments and sportswear — including bike shorts, tights and leggings — that contained microencapsulated caffeine and other substances in the fabric.[3],[4] Norm Thompson Outfitters sold such garments under the brand name Lytess, and the Wacoal America products carried the brand name iPants. The garments were sold online and retailed for $44 to $85.

The companies’ selling of garments infused with caffeine and other ingredients, while very odd, did not violate any federal laws. However, the companies became targets of the FTC when they began claiming that the garments would help women lose weight, improve their figures and reduce cellulite.

Wacoal America got the ball rolling around April 2011, when it began running ads for its caffeine-infused women’s garments with outlandish claims such as:[5]

Novarel Slim microfiber incorporates microcapsules containing caffeine, retinol, ceramides and other active principles that improve skin’s appearance and control cellulite. The caffeine activates microcirculation and speeds up the breakdown of fat. The active principles are released during the garment’s use, providing a permanent anti-cellulite effect.

After 28 days of use of this garment:

  • 76% Slimming efficiency*
  • 72% Users feel lighter*
  • 63% State orange peel [dimpled skin over areas of cellulite] reduction*
  • *Clinical and sensorial trial carried out by an independent laboratory. [Emphasis in original]

Not to be outdone, by early 2012, Norm Thompson Outfitters began publishing similar promotional materials for its magical weight loss garments with statements such as:[6]

Lose 2 [inches] off hips and 1 [inch] off thighs in less than a month. The secret? Lytess® cellulite-slimming shorts.

Dr. Oz loves these. They’re made of patented Lytess®, a unique fabric infused with micronized active ingredients. Caffeine metabolizes and dehydrates fat cells. … In less than a month, you’ll be visibly slimmer and firmer.

Recommended by Dr. Oz for fighting cellulite.

I can think of no plausible mechanism by which caffeine and the other ingredients infused into such undergarments and sportswear would promote weight loss and melt away cellulite. The FTC had similar skepticism. So the agency asked the companies to provide scientific evidence to support the claims about their weight loss undergarments and sportswear. The FTC reviewed the purported evidence and found that it was insufficient to support these claims.[7],[8] As a result, the FTC concluded that the claims were false and misleading.[9],[10]

On Sept. 29, the FTC announced that Wacoal America and Norm Thompson Outfitters both agreed to settle the agency’s charges that their claims about slimming down for their caffeine-infused undergarments and sportswear were false and not substantiated by scientific evidence.[11] Under the settlement, Norm Thompson Outfitters and Wacoal America agreed to pay the FTC $230,000 and $1.3 million, respectively. The FTC can use this money to pay back customers who bought the caffeinated garments.[12] Both companies also were barred from making similar claims about the products unless they could produce valid scientific evidence from well-designed clinical trials to support the claims.[13]

In a press statement regarding the settlement agreements, Jessica Rich, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, offered the following sound advice:[14]

“Caffeine-infused shapewear is the latest ‘weight-loss’ brew concocted by marketers. If someone says you can lose weight by wearing the clothes they are selling, steer clear. The best approach is tried and true: diet and exercise.”

Too often, people who are desperate for an effortless path to losing weight and becoming trimmer allow themselves to become victims of modern-day snake oil salesmen. As a consumer, you can protect yourself by applying a simple rule when evaluating marketing claims: If it sounds too good to be true, don’t waste your money. Caffeinated underwear that melts away fat certainly fails the too-good-to-be-true test.


References

[1] Federal Trade Commission. Norm Thompson Outfitters and Wacoal America settle FTC charges over weight-loss claims for caffeine-infused shapewear; companies to pay a total of $1.5 million in consumer redress. September 29, 2014. http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2014/09/norm-thompson-outfitters-wacoal-america-settle-ftc-charges-over. Accessed October 24, 2014.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Federal Trade Commission. Complaint against Wacoal America, Inc. https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/1409wacoalcmpt.pdf. Accessed October 24, 2014.

[4] Federal Trade Commission. Complaint against Norm Thompson Outfitters, Inc. https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/1409normancmpt.pdf. Accessed October 24, 2014.

[5] Federal Trade Commission. Complaint against Wacoal America, Inc. https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/1409wacoalcmpt.pdf. Accessed October 24, 2014.

[6] Federal Trade Commission. Complaint against Norm Thompson Outfitters, Inc. https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/1409normancmpt.pdf. Accessed October 24, 2014.

[7] Federal Trade Commission. Complaint against Wacoal America, Inc. https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/1409wacoalcmpt.pdf. Accessed October 24, 2014.

[8] Federal Trade Commission. Complaint against Norm Thompson Outfitters, Inc. https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/1409normancmpt.pdf. Accessed October 24, 2014.

[9] Federal Trade Commission. Complaint against Wacoal America, Inc. https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/1409wacoalcmpt.pdf. Accessed October 24, 2014.

[10] Federal Trade Commission. Complaint against Norm Thompson Outfitters, Inc. https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/cases/1409normancmpt.pdf. Accessed October 24, 2014.

[11] Federal Trade Commission. Norm Thompson Outfitters and Wacoal America settle FTC charges over weight-loss claims for caffeine-infused shapewear; companies to pay a total of $1.5 million in consumer redress. September 29, 2014. http://www.ftc.gov/news-events/press-releases/2014/09/norm-thompson-outfitters-wacoal-america-settle-ftc-charges-over. Accessed October 24, 2014.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.