UK ASA ruling: Bodytrim

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"We noted that we had not seen specific evidence, such as rigorous trials on people, to show the Bodytrim programme could safely and effectively achieve weight loss. We also noted the weight loss amounts claimed in testimonials in the ad were not stated together with the period involved."

http://www.asa.org.uk/asa/adjudications/Public/TF_ADJ_45891.htm

ASA Adjudications

IGEA Life Sciences Pty Ltd Level 2 64 Clarence Street Sydney New South Wales 2000 Australia

Number of complaints: 1

Date: 4 March 2009

Media: National press Sector: Health and beauty Ad

A press ad for a weight loss regime was headlined "Leading Medical Doctor speaks out. How To Break All The Rules And Turn Your Body Into an Automatic Fat Burner". The ad contained various weight loss claims for the regime, including "NO need to starve yourself, NO calorie counting, NO self-denial, NO sweaty exercise". It claimed that "Bodytrim" was a formula for the "almost effortless removal of stubborn fatty deposits" and was "based on scientific proof".

A number of photographic and written testimonials were also included. The ad was signed "Dr. Vicky Hillier".

Issue 1. The complainant challenged whether the advertisers could substantiate the efficacy claims for the weight loss regime, including whether or not the testimonials were genuine.

The ASA challenged whether:

2. the ad was irresponsible, because it encouraged weight loss at a rate that was incompatible with good medical and nutritional practice;

3. the ad was irresponsible because it implied that the weight loss regime was suitable for obese people;

4. the claim "it's not physiologically possible to lose weight the way almost everyone is trying to do it" was misleading and could be substantiated;

5. the claim "we are only offering free trials to 2300 lucky people" was misleading and could be substantiated; 6. the claim "You have my word on it and guarantee as a medical doctor" implied that the regime was guaranteed to work, and that it was endorsed by a qualified medical practitioner.

The CAP Code: 2.2;3.1;6.1;7.1;7.2;14.1;14.3;14.4;51.1;51.2;51.4;51.10;51.5;51.8

Response

1. N2 Marketing Ltd (N2) responded on behalf of IGEA Life Sciences Pty Ltd (IGEA). They said that weight loss was achieved on the Bodytrim programme by burning more calories than were consumed, something known to be fundamental to losing weight. They said Bodytrim also recognised that not all calories were equal and said their frequency and source could affect resting metabolism. They sent a list of references as supporting evidence.They said their programme was similar to those that recommended an increase in dietary proteins and a decrease in carbohydrates, but it additionally encouraged low fat varieties of protein intake.

They said there was evidence that protein made people feel more satiated than carbohydrates and this feeling of being full would also contribute to eating less. They said there was also evidence that it took more energy to metabolise protein than it did to metabolise carbohydrate and that was another reason for the Bodytrim recommendation. They said evidence existed that higher protein intake diets also decreased muscle wastage during weight loss. They said their system recommended a "nibbling" rather than a "gorging" pattern of eating, with small intake at regular intervals, which had been shown to be better able to prevent the body from slowing down its metabolism when calorie intake was reduced.

N2 said that the Bodytrim system, in addition to educating people about the properties of different foods and their impacts on the body, also recommended daily moderate exercise of approximately 10,000 steps a day and provided a pedometer to clients in order to enable them to achieve that figure. They said they recommended walking because it was achievable by most people. They said their system was designed to be as easy to follow as possible and they provided their information on DVD format for this reason. They said no calorie counting was required or recommended.

They said the system provided dietary rules to ensure users were not eating more than the necessary daily allowance. They said the Bodytrim programme had a weight loss and a weight maintenance stage and the programme rules changed depending on the stage clients were at. N2 also said Bodytrim involved weekly eating plans that had been pre-designed for calorie content and nutritional balance.

They said when the eating plans were put into the Australia and New Zealand Food Standards and Australian Nutrition and Dietician approved food analysis programmes they had shown that all Recommended Daily Amounts including intakes of macro and micro nutrients were being met. They sent two signed testimonials from people whom they said were part of the initial trial conducted by Dr Vicky Hillier.

2. & 3. N2 said the amount 11 lbs (approx 5 kg) quoted in the ad had been lost by a client under Dr Hillier's medical supervision during one of her conducted trials. They said that that sort of weight loss could be safely achieved using the Bodytrim programme under such supervision. However, they said in future they would not refer to weight loss in their advertising that exceeded the recommended amount per week under the CAP Code.

They said there was no reference to obesity in the ad and they assumed the reference was to two of the people featured in the ad. They said both the individuals pictured were real people who had participated in Dr Hillier's trial and had been supervised by her.

4. N2 said this claim was based on the fact that 95% of diets failed, primarily due to the nutritional structure of the programmes used. They said the calorie intake in most diets actually slowed the metabolism down, inhibiting weight loss, reducing results, and leading to de-motivation.

5. They said that at the time the ad appeared, they had approval from the brand owners to offer up to 2,300 packs on free trial. They said they had since received approval to extend that offer to the end of January 2009. 6. N2 said Dr Vicky Hillier was a qualified medical practitioner with a private practice in New South Wales, Australia.

Assessment

1. Upheld
We noted N2's arguments, but also noted we had not seen peer reviewed or clinical trial evidence to show that people undertaking the Bodytrim programme lost weight as a result and did so in a safe and responsible manner without other detrimental consequences. We also noted we had not seen evidence that the programme worked safely and effectively to allow consumers to "Break All The Rules And Turn Your Body Into an Automatic Fat Burner".

We noted that the testimonials sent by the advertiser included full addresses and were signed and dated and corresponded to the names of two of the people featured in the ad. We nevertheless noted that, under the CAP Code, testimonials alone did not constitute substantiation. We were concerned that the ad did not make clear how the Bodytrim method worked and that the claims "Turn Your Body Into an Automatic Fat Burner" and "NO need to starve yourself. NO calorie counting. NO self-denial" implied that dieters could not fail and could eat as much as they liked and still lose weight.

Because we had not seen robust evidence, based on people who had undertaken the programme, to show that the Bodytrim method could safely and successfully "Break All the Rules and Turn Your Body Into an Automatic Fat Burner" and could result in "almost effortless removal of stubborn fatty deposits" we concluded the advertisers had not substantiated the efficacy claims for Bodytrim and that the ad was likely to mislead.

On this point the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 and 7.2 (Truthfulness) 14.3 (Testimonials) and 51.1, 51.4, 51.5 and 51.8 (Weight control). We also investigated under 14.4 (Testimonials) but did not find it in breach.

2.& 3. Upheld
We noted that we had not seen specific evidence, such as rigorous trials on people, to show the Bodytrim programme could safely and effectively achieve weight loss. We also noted the weight loss amounts claimed in testimonials in the ad were not stated together with the period involved. We welcomed N2's assurance that, in future, they would not advertise weight loss of more than the 2 lbs per week recommended by the Department of Health.

However, we considered these claims would need to be backed by robust evidence for the Bodytrim programme. Whilst we accepted that Dr Vicky Hillier, who was endorsing the programme in the ad, was a qualified private practice medical practitioner in Australia, we noted she did not routinely or directly supervise all those undertaking the Bodytrim programme, and that, especially for UK consumers, she was only available to answer questions via an online intermediary.

We noted the ad featured people likely initially to be classified as obese. Because, under the CAP Code, treatments for obesity should not be advertised to the public unless they were to be undertaken under appropriate medical supervision, and because this would not directly be the case for all Bodytrim consumers, we concluded the ad was irresponsible.

On this point the ad breached CAP Code clauses 2.2 (Social responsibility) 51.2 and 51.10 (Weight control).

4. Upheld
We noted the advertiser's contention that most diets failed. However, we considered the claim "it's not physiologically possible to lose weight the way almost everyone is trying to do it" implied that established methods of weight loss, involved a nutritionally balanced calorie controlled diet combined with exercise (under medical supervision if required) were physiologically problematic and were unlikely to result in weight loss.

We concluded the claim exploited the lack of medical knowledge possessed by the ordinary consumer, in particular because the ad did not make it clear how Bodytrim was supposed to work, and that it was likely to mislead. On this point the ad breached CAP Code clauses 2.2 (Social responsibility), 3.1 (Substantiation) and 7.1 and 7.2 (Truthfulness). 5. Upheld N2 said an internal e-mail showed that initially only 2,300 free trials were approved by their General Manager, although this number was later increased up until the end of January 2009 with further ads published to reflect that.

They did not provide the e-mail. We considered that the claim "We are only offering free trials to 2,300 lucky people … The product will then be sold at full upfront retail value … We are already close to 50% of that number so pick up the phone …" was likely to influence consumer's decision to purchase. Because further free trials were then released by IGEA we concluded the ad was likely to mislead as to the scarcity of the product advertised.

On this point the ad breached CAP Code clauses 7.1 and 7.2 (Truthfulness).

6. Upheld
We accepted that the Bodytrim regime was endorsed by Dr Vicky Hillier, a qualified medical doctor in Australia. However, we considered the claim "You have my word on it and guarantee as a medical doctor" implied that the regime was guaranteed to work and to do so safely even without direct medical supervision.

Because we had not seen evidence to show that, we concluded the ad was socially irresponsible and was likely to mislead. On this point the ad breached CAP Code clauses 2.2 (Social responsibility) and 7.1 and 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 14.3 (Testimonials). Action The ad must not appear again in its current form. We advised N2 and IGEA to consult the CAP Copy Advice team before advertising again.

Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)

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