Companies Advertising Popular Dietary Supplement Chromium Picolinate
Can't Substantiate Weight Loss and Health Benefit Claims, Says FTC
FTC News Release
The Federal Trade Commission today announced settlements with three California companies charged with making unsupported claims about weight loss and health benefits for chromium picolinate, one of the hottest dietary supplements on the market. The FTC said that these claims must be backed with solid scientific evidence, but these were not.
November 7, 1996
Some have called chromium picolinate the "medical miracle of the 1990s." At issue are claims that most American diets lack adequate chromium and risk potentially serious health problems, and claims that chromium picolinate supplements burn fat, cause weight loss, increase muscle mass, reduce serum cholesterol, regulate blood sugar levels, and treat or prevent diabetes. Chromium is a trace mineral that appears to play a role in insulin function. Chromium picolinate has found its way into many products, including chewing gum; total retail sales for chromium-based supplements are estimated to be $100 million a year.
"Consumers have a right to expect that claims that products will speed weight loss and improve health are based on solid scientific evidence, not preliminary or inconsistent findings," said Jodie Bernstein, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection.
Today's cases are against:
- Nutrition 21, the sole supplier of chromium picolinate in the US, Selene Systems, Inc., a general partner of Nutrition 21, and Herbert H. Boynton. The San Diego-based company holds the exclusive US license on the patent rights to chromium picolinate, and sells it to the public through distributors;
- Victoria Bie, doing business as Body Gold, a La Jolla-based company that sold its dietary supplements directly to the public through ads in national magazines. The main ingredients of the products — sold under the names Chromium Picolinate, 24K with Chromium Picolinate, Super Fat Burner Formula, L-Carnitine, Daily Energy Formula, and Citrigold — are chromium picolinate, L-carnitine, and/or (-)hydroxycitric acid (HCA); and
- Universal Merchants, Inc., a Los Angeles-based company and Steven Oscherowitz, its president. The company advertises and distributes its chromium picolinate chewing gum products — Chromatrim and Chromatrim 100 — through an infomercial starring Susan Ruttan, an actress who appeared in the long-running series, LA Law, and in print ads in national magazines.
Today's complaints cite various advertising statements and testimonials from consumers claiming weight loss and health benefits that allegedly can be achieved by using chromium picolinate. According to the complaints, the companies failed to provide adequate substantiation for their claims that the supplement would, among other things, cause significant and long-term weight loss; improve body composition by reducing body fat and building muscle; increase metabolic rate; control appetite; reduce serum cholesterol; regulate blood sugar levels; increase energy and/or stamina; and treat and prevent diabetes.
The FTC also maintains that:
- the companies failed to substantiate their claim that 90 percent of American adults do not consume enough chromium in their diets to support normal insulin function and therefore are at risk for obesity, heart disease and diabetes;
- the companies falsely claimed that chromium picolinate's benefits are proven by scientific studies; and
- some of the companies made unsubstantiated claims that the testimonials used in their ads reflect the typical experiences of consumers who use chromium picolinate products.
According to the FTC's Bernstein, Americans spend about $33 billion a year on weight loss products, programs and services. "There's only one way people can tell the sizzle from the substance when it comes to these kinds of claims," she said. "Subject them to a healthy dose of skepticism." Over the years, the FTC has brought more than 140 cases against companies making deceptive weight loss and health benefits claims.
Under the proposed consent agreements to settle these allegations, announced today for public comment, the respondents would be prohibited from making any of the challenged claims for chromium picolinate in the future, unless they have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support them. The settlements also would require them to have competent and reliable scientific evidence to support any representation they make about the benefits, performance, efficacy, or safety of any food, dietary supplement, or drug they advertise or sell.
The settlements would further prohibit the respondents from misrepresenting the results of any test, study, or research. Respondents Bie and Universal Merchants would be prohibited from representing that any testimonial or endorsement is the typical or ordinary experience of users of the advertised products, unless the claim is substantiated or the respondents disclose the generally expected results clearly and prominently.
In addition, the settlement with Nutrition 21 would require the company to send its customers (who resell chromium picolinate to the public) a notice of the Commission's allegations and a request to stop using sales materials making the challenged claims. This notice must be sent to anyone with whom Nutrition 21 has done business since 1993 and everyone with whom they do business for the next three years.
Finally, the settlements include various reporting requirements to help the FTC monitor the respondents' compliance with their provisions.
The Commission votes to accept the three consent agreements for public comment were 5-0.
- In the Matter of Nutrition 21, Selene Systems, and Herbert H. Boynton.. FTC File No. 932-3282.
- In the Matter of Victoria Bie (d/b/a Body Gold). FTC File No. 942-3328.
- In the Matter of Universal Merchants, and Steven Oscherowitz. FTC File No. 952-3366.
This page was posted on December 23, 2005.