FTC Annual Report Highlights Commission Focus on Health-Related Advertising

April 15, 2013

As it does every spring, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) has released its annual report.  The new report, which covers 2012, makes clear that the FTC remains as focused as ever on health-related advertising – especially where advertising allegedly promotes products for weight loss or disease treatment or prevention. 

The annual report includes a summary of significant advertising matters litigated or settled by the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection (“BCP”).  Last year’s summary highlighted three health-related advertising matters: two on weight loss advertising and one on advertising that included disease treatment and prevention claims.  This year’s summary again highlights three health-related matters – again, two matters on weight loss advertising and one on advertising that included disease treatment and prevention claims.  The matters highlighted this year – and in annual reports over the past several years – serve as a reminder not only that weight loss and disease claims remain a high FTC priority, but also that foods and dietary supplements are not the only products that the FTC targets.  The FTC has targeted everything from vacuum cleaners to toning sneakers to smartphone apps and exercise equipment.      

A “Stats and Data” section of the new annual report lists the highest grossing BCP matters for 2012.  The list includes advertising matters, as well as privacy, financial practices, and other consumer protection matters.  As has been the case over the past several years, matters on health-related advertising still rank high.  A settlement over advertising for toning sneakers takes second place for the highest redress amount in 2012 ($40 million), and a settlement over alleged order violations by a weight loss marketer takes third place ($3.7 million). 

In crafting and substantiating health-related claims, it remains crucial to advertisers to consider FTC precedent and guidance.  For satisfying the FTC, the science behind claims must be – in a nutshell – reliable, relevant to the product and claims at issue, and consistent with surrounding science.  The FTC’s Dietary Supplements: An Advertising Guide for Industry serves as a good starting point for background and practical guidance, regardless of the type of product being marketed.  As stated on the FTC Business Center Blog after the $40 million toning sneaker settlement, “Even if supplements aren’t your line, it’s a useful resource for evaluating ad claims.  If it helps, just think of it as An Advertising Guide for [Insert Your Company Name Here].”