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 WASHINGTON, Sept. 30 /PRNewswire/ -- Weight Watchers International, a leader in the weight loss industry for 30 years, today stood behind the integrity of its advertising and said it would not sign a Federal Trade Commission consent order that erroneously implies lack of substantiation for a tiny percentage of ads.
 "This is much ado about nothing," Weight Watchers Chairman Charles Berger declared. He emphasized that the FTC complaint was confined to substantiation of advertising and did not involve any of the important issues that sparked the FTC investigation into weight loss companies to begin with -- health, pricing or safety.
 "We are completely innocent," Berger said. "We emphatically deny the FTC allegation. The guilty have signed. We will not. Consumers should know that our advertising will continue to comply with the principles the FTC and Rep. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) have advocated.
 "Weight watchers has earned the trust and confidence of millions of people by helping them lose weight in a safe, sensible way," Berger said. "Consumer do not need to be protected from Weight Watchers. Consumers need to be protected from the quacks who are included in the 50 percent of the industry that the FTC chose not to investigate." The FTC investigation centered on five companies: Jenny Craig, NutriSystem, Inc., Physicians Weight Loss Centers of America, Diet Center and Weight Watchers. To safeguard consumers from charlatans, Berger called on Congress to require the FTC to establish uniform advertising standards for the entire weight loss industry.
 Berger said the most effective way to protect all American consumers from the charlatans in the industry is with uniform advertising standards that are nationally enforced. "With 34 million overweight Americans, uniform standards are crucial to assure consumers that they can trust what they read."
 Weight Watchers and four other companies filed a petition with the FTC last August for a Trade Regulation Rule that would mandate advertising and marketing standards for the entire weight loss industry. The FTC rejected the proposal in March.
 After a three-year investigation, the FTC challenged the substantiation of less than 1 percent of Weight Watchers advertisements.
 "Weight Watchers is extremely proud of its extraordinary record," Berger said. "In 30 years and with 25 million members worldwide, we have never been sued by a consumer over the safety or efficacy of the program, even though we have 600,000 members attending more than 15,000 Weight Watchers meetings every week."
 Weight Watchers integrity and sensible approach to weight loss has won the confidence of consumers. A 1991 survey by an independent research firm found that 96 percent of Weight Watchers members expressed satisfaction with the program.
 In an affidavit to the FTC that was released by Weight Watchers, William L. Wilkie, marketing professor at the University of Notre Dame, who has worked with the FTC for years, reported that his review of consumer research into Weight Watchers showed extremely high consumer satisfaction and no evidence that a complaint is warranted.
 "Existing consumer research indicates that consumers know what Weight Watchers is, and they like the program," Wilkie said in an affidavit. "There is no evidence that Weight Watchers customers were misled. To the contrary, consumers report their expectations have been met or exceeded. They are satisfied with the program, and they will be back to rejoin in the future."
 Because the FTC works on a case-by-case basis, Berger said, the advertising rules outlined by the FTC only apply to the companies involved. That means the often outrageous advertising claims by the remaining 50 percent -- the least known and least responsible segment -- will not be affected by the FTC investigation.
 Currently, there is no effective way to prevent charlatans from establishing boiler room "diet" companies, ripping off consumers and then changing their names to repeat the process if the FTC gets on their trail. Only a uniform national standard would stop this, Weight Watchers said.
 Weight Watchers' call for Congress to mandate uniform advertising standards is shared by many independent experts.
 "Absent an industrywide set of rules, enforcement would proceed only on a case-by-case basis," said Stephen A. Greyser, marketing professor at Harvard Business School. "Case-by-case enforcement is an endless task. I strongly support the direction Weight Watchers is taking."
 Nancy Wellman, nutrition professor at Florida International University, said in a statement that obesity and the diseases it contributes to are major health problems which cost the nation an estimated $140 billion a year. "Studies repeatedly have shown that losing even a modest amount of weight improves health," said Wellman. "But consumers should not be duped into believing there are magic cures. Programs like Weight Watchers that emphasize gradual weight loss by combining health, nutrition and exercise are the best approach."
 -0- 9/30/93
 /CONTACT: Leslie Dach, Jean Rainey or Maureen Santini of Edelman Public Relations, 202-371-0200, for Weight Watchers/

CO: Weight Watchers International; Federal Trade Commission ST: District of Columbia IN: ADV HEA SU:

MH-DC -- DC016 -- 7312 09/30/93 13:11 EDT
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Publication:PR Newswire
Date:Sep 30, 1993

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