Start the presses. The bench presses, that is -– and all the other hard work that goes into an effective exercise and fat loss routine. “Just three minutes a day won’t make you thin,” the Federal Trade Commission revealed yesterday.
In a press conference in Washington, D.C., the FTC squelched (one of) the latest get-thin-quick schemes to hit the infomercial circuit when it told us that the Abs Circle Pro won’t take 10 pounds off your gut in 10 days if you roll with it for three minutes daily. The marketers of the device have agreed to pay up to $25 million in refunds to people who shelled out as much as $250 for the gizmo.
“Ads for the Ab Circle Pro, a circular disk with handlebars and knee rests on which people swing back and forth while kneeling, said the three-minute daily workout was equivalent to 100 sit-ups …,” Brent Kendall reports in the Wall Street Journal. “Ads for the device were among the most widely aired infomercials from 2009 to 2010, the FTC said.”
Indeed, infomercials as long as an hour did more than 10,000 reps on the airwaves between March 2009 and May 2010, according to the FTC. For the record, doing 100 sit-ups daily, in and of themselves, won’t take 10 pounds off your gut either (although they can aggravate back injuries).
“The rights to Ab Circle Pro are owned by Fitness Brands Inc. of Nevada, which will pay $1.2 million of the settlement,” reports Jim Puzzanghera of the Los Angeles Times. “Reader's Digest and two of its subsidiaries that helped market and distribute the device -- Direct Holdings Americas Inc. and Direct Entertainment Media Group Inc. -- agreed to pay a total of $13.8 million, and as much as $10 million more, depending on how many refund requests are made.”
“Reader's Digest isn't accused of wrongdoing and didn't acknowledge any under the settlement,” Jack Neff writes in Ad Age. “But it did in 2007 acquire Direct Holdings Americas and Direct Entertainment Media Group -- the former Time Inc. book division that also markets Time Life books, CDs and DVDs.” Sources tell Neff “the unusually large size of this settlement owes to finding a ‘relief defendant’ with deep pockets to foot the tab.”
The product was endorsed by “Author, Fitness Expert, Lifestyle Consultant, FITNESS MODEL™ and most importantly a devoted wife and mother” Jennifer Nicole Lee, who has a lot of other stuff for sale on her official website, from exercise DVDs to books to supplements.
“I hold titles such as Ms. Bikini America and have been named the first ever Ms. Muscle and Fitness,” Lee tells us on the website but she didn’t respond to requests for comment about the settlement yesterday although the FTC “also took aim” at her, according to Oliver St. John in USA Today.
“Ms. Lee said she lost 80 pounds and was crowned Ms. Bikini Diva all thanks to the Ab Circle Pro,” writes St. John. "Ms. Lee isn't paying a monetary penalty under the settlement, but she is permanently barred from asserting that the device significantly contributed to her weight loss or physical fitness.”
The FTC release announcing the settlement also went out of its way to serve notice to marketers of similar devices by leading with the phrase, “As part of its ongoing efforts to stop over-hyped health claims ...,” with a link to its page about “Truth in Advertising and Marketing.” The FTC’s latest effort suggests that it is widening its attention from a previous focus on the supplement industry, which it estimated did $25 billion in sales in 2009.
“All too often, the health claims made for these products are false or unproven,” it says. “Over the last decade, the FTC has filed one hundred and twenty cases challenging health claims made for supplements. Meanwhile, in recent years there has been a trend in food advertising toward making unproven claims that eating certain foods can improve health and even reduce the risk of serious illnesses such as prostate cancer and heart disease.”
"Dramatic 'too good to be true' claims involving weight loss and 'spot reduction' are nothing new to the health fitness industry and, unfortunately, all too common," David Van Daff, vp of membership at the National Academy of Sports Medicine tells St. John. "Eat healthily and burn more calories than you consume. That is how to safely and effectively lose fat."
But if you happened to purchase an Abs Circle Pro –- hey, insomnia can lead to strange behaviors –- you can restore the bulge to your wallet by applying for a refund here.