The booming market for weight loss supplements, driven by the rapid rise in obesity and the popularity of the herbal ephedra, continues to fuel new products development targeted at dieters. However these are not always backed by science, and many make illegal claims for their efficacy.
The FTC has brought charges against a number of supplement marketers in the last year for such actions and says it is determined to clamp down on unsubstantiated claims. However while the removal of ephedra could reduce some of these, the industry faces an even bigger range of new products reaching the marketplace, being pushed to fill the gap left by removal of the herb from the market.
Ephedra accounted for a 7 per cent of total dietary supplement sales in 2002, according to Nutrition Business Journal, bringing in $1.4 billion that year.
The recent case, filed in June 2003, concerned two ephedra products, Zymax and MillinesES, and also Serotril, which contains St John's wort. The FTC brought charges against California residents Michael S. Levey and Gary Ballen; Bentley Myers International, based in Vancouver, Canada; and Publisher's Data Services and Nutritional Life, both based in Beverly Hills, California for makings claims for substantial weight loss without diet or exercise and claims that the ephedra products have no side effects.
It also alleged that the defendants made unsubstantiated claims that CartazyneDS, a dietary supplement containing glucosamine, 'cures' arthritis and 'rebuilds' cartilage within days. The defendants' ads used 'fictitious expert and consumer endorsements, and deceptive 'before and after' pictures, according to the FTC.
Levey and the three companies were also charged with violating a previous FTC order in 1993, which prohibited Levey from making unsubstantiated advertising claims and from using deceptive endorsements and demonstrations for the EuroTrym Diet Patch, Foliplexx hair-loss product, Y-Bron impotence treatment, and Magic Wand kitchen mixer.