As part of its ongoing efforts to stop over-hyped health claims, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has filed deceptive advertising charges against the marketers of the Ab Circle Pro, an abdominal exercise device, who promised consumers that exercising on the device for just three minutes a day would cause them to lose 10 pounds in two weeks.
The defendants have agreed to settlements that provide as much as $25 million in consumer refunds (a minimum of $15 million) depending on the volume of consumer refund requests.
According to the FTC the defendants' advertisements promised that a three-minute workout on the Ab Circle Pro, a fiberglass disk with stationary handlebars and two knee rests that roll on the edge of the disk allowing consumers to kneel and rotate side-to-side, was equivalent to doing 100 sit ups.
In the infomercial, pitchwoman Jennifer Nicole Lee compared the Ab Circle Pro to a gym workout, saying, "You can either do 30 minutes of abs and cardio or just three minutes a day. The choice is yours." The infomercial claimed that consumers using the Ab Circle Pro for three minutes a day would 'melt inches and pounds,' and featured 'users claimed they had lost as much as sixty pounds.
Consumers buying through the infomercial typically paid $200 to $250 for the device, while the price for those buying from retailers varied more widely.
In addition to multiple versions of the infomercial, which aired more than 10,000 times between March 2009 and May 2010, the defendants marketed the Ab Circle Pro online, in stores, in one- and two-minute television commercials, and in print advertisements.
The complaint names as defendants Fitness Brands, Inc., Fitness Brands International, Inc., and the two individuals who control them, Michael Casey and David Brodess; Direct Holdings Americas, Inc. and Direct Entertainment Media Group, Inc.; infomercial producer Tara Borakos and two companies she controls, Tara Productions Inc. and New U, Inc.; and Jennifer Nicole Lee and two companies she controls, JNL, Inc. and JNL Worldwide, Inc.
The complaint charges all the defendants, except Lee and her companies, with making false and/or unsupported claims, including that using the Ab Circle Pro caused rapid or substantial weight and fat loss; resulted in loss of weight, fat, or inches in specific parts of the body, such as the abdomen, hips, buttocks, and thighs; provided fat loss and weight loss equivalent to, or better than, a much longer gym workout; and provided the same rapid and substantial weight loss that people who provided testimonials for the infomercial said they experienced.
Under the settlements, Lee and the two companies she controls cannot misrepresent that the Ab Circle Pro, any substantially similar device, or any exercise equipment, food, drug, or device contributed to her weight loss. She also cannot endorse any exercise equipment, food, drug, or device unless the endorsement reflects her honest opinion or experience.
The defendants also are prohibited from claiming that the Ab Circle Pro or any similar device, if used for three minutes a day, causes users to lose 10 pounds in two weeks; provides the same exercise benefits as doing 100 sit-ups; or provides weight-loss or fat-loss benefits that are equivalent or superior to longer workouts on other exercise devices or gym equipment.
Under the settlements, the Fitness Brands, Inc. defendants will pay $1.2 million. Direct Holdings Americas, Inc.; Direct Entertainment Media Group, Inc.; and relief defendant Reader's Digest will pay $13.8 million, and up to $10 million more, depending on the volume of refund requests.