Claims that Reebok's EasyTone or RunTone shoes could strengthen hamstrings, calves and buttocks "just by walking" have been ruled "unsubstantiated" by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). As a result, thousands of customers may be in line to receive part of the $25 million fine imposed for false advertising.
The Guardian quoted the head of the FTC's consumer protection bureau, David Vladeck, who said, "There is no such thing as a no-work, no-sweat way to a fit and healthy body." It also pointed out that the U.K.'s Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) ruled against Reebok's ads in December 2010 because the company "had not provided 'robust, scientific evidence' to support claims."
The Daily Telegraph observes that claims for "leg-sculpting miracles" have been around for several years while The Guardian says Skechers, the other major footwear maker in the "toning" category, acknowledges the FTC is looking at ads for its Shape-ups and other toning shoes.
Reebok's owner, Adidas, in an e-mail, stood behind its claims, agreeing to the settlement solely (pun intended) to "avoid a protracted legal battle." The statement added, "We have received overwhelmingly enthusiastic feedback from thousands of EasyTone customers, and we remain committed to the further development of our EasyTone line of products. Our customers are our number one priority, and we will continue to deliver products that they trust and love."
Speaking to Adweek, attorney Jeffrey Greenbaum said the settlement, particularly the fine, "signals a major shift" for the FTC, "which is cracking down on national advertisers, forcing them to make restitution to consumers" if caught making claims they cannot prove.
The Washington Post reported, "Experts who track the industry say that while the FTC settlement may generate some skepticism among consumers, it won't bring down the product line. ... The promise of a better body from sneakers is analogous to beauty products, where people pay a premium price for hope in a jar."
Attorney Linda Goldstein added, "The old standards for proof were more fluid. ... For certain health claims, companies now have to have two double-blind studies."
Overseas, the European Food Standards Agency (EFSA) recently concluded a three-year assessment of manufacturers' claims and "rejected 80 percent of proposed food-related general health claims," reported just-food, which also gave background about some of the reasons.
Meanwhile, consumer choice comes down to "believe it or not."
What's the likelihood that the FTC will increasingly be cracking down on dubious health claims by either food or fitness-product makers?