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Ab Circle Pro marketers settle deceptive-advertising case

The settlement with the FTC, for as much as $25 million in refunds, is the largest ever involving an exercise machine.

August 24, 2012|By Jim Puzzanghera, Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON — The ads promised that if you used the Ab Circle Pro machine just three minutes a day, you'd lose weight fast.

But the Federal Trade Commission said the only thing that would get substantially lighter was your wallet.

In the largest FTC settlement ever concerning an exercise machine, the Ab Circle Pro marketers have agreed to settle deceptive-advertising allegations by refunding up to $25 million to people who bought the device, the agency said.

The Ab Circle Pro , which cost as much as $250, was marketed largely via infomercials and pitched by fitness model Jennifer Nicole Lee. Ads featuring the machine were shown 10,000 times nationwide, according to the FTC.

Marketers said three minutes on the device, which allowed users to swivel on a fiberglass disk, was the equivalent of 100 sit-ups and would cause them to shed 10 pounds in two weeks, the agency said.

"You can either do 30 minutes of abs and cardio or just three minutes a day," Lee said in one infomercial. "The choice is yours."

Lee said in the infomercials that Ab Circle Pro helped her lose 80 pounds.

The fitness claims were either false or unsupported, according to the FTC.

"The FTC reminds marketers that they should think twice before promising a silver-bullet solution to a health problem — whether it involves losing weight or curing cancer," said David Vladeck, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection. "Weight loss is hard work, and telling consumers otherwise is deceptive."

Neither Lee nor the attorney for the other defendants responded to requests for comment.

The FTC has been cracking down on deceptive health and weight-loss claims by marketers.

In May, Skechers USA Inc. of Manhattan Beach agreed to pay $50 million to settle false-advertising allegations regarding the health benefits of its rocker-bottom Shape-Ups toning shoes.

Last year, Reebok International Ltd. agreed to pay $25 million to settle similar allegations that the company falsely claimed its toning shoes strengthened muscles.

The Ab Circle Pro was touted in infomercials that aired from March 2009 to May 2010. The infomercials stopped airing about the time the agency began its investigation, said Mary Engle, associate director of the FTC's Division of Advertising Practices.

The device also was advertised online, in shorter TV commercials and in print ads. It was sold online and at retail outlets.

The rights to Ab Circle Pro are owned by Fitness Brands Inc. of Nevada, which will pay $1.2 million of the settlement.

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 said in a statement that it did not agree with the allegations made by the FTC and noted it or its subsidiaries did not admit to any wrongdoing. The company said it settled the claims "to avoid protracted legal proceedings."

Under the settlement, Lee and the two companies she controls, JNL Inc. and JNL Worldwide Inc., agreed not to make claims about substantial weight loss or fitness regarding the Ab Circle Pro or any similar device, or more broadly, not to make such claims unless they "are supported by competent and reliable scientific evidence," the FTC said.

Consumers can apply for refunds at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/cases/abcirclepro.

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

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