Electronic Ab Belts

Exercise scientists and fitness trainers the world over must have cheered when news came out this month that the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which protects consumers' rights, charged three top-selling electronic abdominal exercise belts with making false claims in what it calls "Project Absurd."

The American Council on Exercise, the fitness industry's "workout watch dog," issued a press release giving its full support to the FTC's decision.

In a press conference May 8, FTC chair Timothy J. Muris said, "For years, the marketers of diet and exercise products have been preying on overweight, out-of-shape consumers by hawking false hope in a pill, false hope in a bottle, and now, in a belt. These electronic ab gadgets don't do a thing to turn a bulging beer belly into a sleek six-pack muscled stomach."

The targets of the FTC's legal action are the top three bestselling electronic muscle stimulation (EMS) products marketed under the brand names Ab Energizer, AbTronic and Fast Abs.

EMS machines are legitimate physical therapy and rehabilitation devices that use a mild electrical current to stimulate muscles to contract and relax via rubber electrode pads that adhere to the skin. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved these devices as medical tools to increase blood circulation to an injured muscle, help relax muscle spasms and relieve pain, and prevent atrophy of the muscles of people who are paralyzed.

False Claims
So why is the FTC going after AB Energizer, AbTronic and Fast Abs? If you have watched the infomercials touting these products, you'll know why. As cited in the official FTC press release, here are some of the questionable claims that prompted the consumer protection agency to pull the plug on the products:

The FTC says that claims like these are patently false and without any scientific basis. The agency adds that Ab Energizer falsely claims that its product will cause weight loss while AbTronic lies when it says that its device can eliminate cellulite.

Inadequate Safety Warnings
The FTC is not just upset with the exaggerated claims but also with the three manufacturers' assertion that their products are safe for all users. According to the FTC, the erring manufacturers fail to provide adequate warnings about health hazards for pregnant women, those with pacemakers or other implanted metallic or electronic devices, swollen or inflamed areas or cancerous lesions. AbTronic and Fast Abs also falsely claim that their products are safe to use over the chest area.

Deceptive Business Practices
If that wasn't enough, the FTC also questions the companies' refund, shipping and warranty practices. The FTC alleges that all three misrepresent their "money-back guarantees" and fail to deliver their products within the promised shipping time (in some cases, even completely failing to send the product). In the case of Fast Abs, the FTC charges that customers are told they have a one-year warranty when in reality, they only get 30 days.

The FTC seeks to stop permanently the companies from making false claims and from engaging in other deceptive marketing practices, and to require them to refund their customers.

Beware of Fitness Fraud
It is human nature to want to take the easy way out, especially when it comes to fitness. Who wouldn't want to just lie back while reading a book or watching television and let some machine do the work of sculpting your body? Unfortunately, it just doesn't work that way. Keep in mind some tips from the FTC the next time you come across fitness claims that seem too good to be true. Be suspicious when a machine claims to:

The FTC adds that consumers should also do the following to protect themselves from deceptive marketing practices:

The Last Word
FTC chair Muris said it all in one sentence,

"Unfortunately, there are no magic pills, potions or pulsators for losing weight and getting into shape. The only winning combination is changing your diet and exercise."

Next week: Find out how scientific research is misused in TV infomercials for electronic ab belts.

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