General Nutrition Corp. To Pay $600,000 to Settle Charges
It Made False and Misleading Advertising Claims about Food Supplements
Consent Agreement Settles 1984 Charges About Healthy Greens
and Additional Charges about Six Other Food Supplements
FTC News Release
June 13, 1988
The Federal Trade Commission today announced that General Nutrition Corp. Inc. (GNC) has signed a consent agreement settling 1984 FTC charges that it made false and unsubstantiated claims that a diet supplement, "Healthy Greens," was effective in reducing the risk of cancer. The consent agreement also settles additional charges from a separate investigation that the company falsely claimed six other food supplements would promote weight loss and muscle growth or retard aging.
The consent agreement requires that, in lieu of consumer redress, GNC pay a total of $600,000 for research in nutrition, obesity, or physical fitness. The money is to be divided equally among the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society, and the American Heart Association. The consent agreement, which has been placed on the public record for comment, also prohibits GNC from making false and unsubstantiated claims about its products.
The vote to issue the consent agreement and an amended complaint was 3-2, with Chairman Daniel Oliver and Commissioner Mary L. Azcuenaga dissenting.
GNC is a nationwide chain of retail outlets that sell a wide range of health food products, including vitamins and mineral supplements, weight loss products, and cosmetics. In 1986 GNC had sales of more than $300 million through approximately 1,100 stores, most of which are called General Nutrition Centers. GNC is based in Pittsburgh.
Following the Commission's 1984 complaint charging that GNC made false claims about Healthy Greens, an administrative law judge (ALJ) conducted a hearing on the allegations. In 1986 the ALJ, Montgomery K. Hyun, issued an order prohibiting GNC from making "false and unsubstantiated advertising claims in the future for any product marketed for its ability to prevent or reduce the risk of any disease in humans." Both the company and the FTC staff appealed the ALJ's decision to the Commission. The matter was withdrawn from litigation for the negotiations that led to this consent agreement. "Healthy Greens," which GNC no longer markets, were sold in the form of pills and contained de hydrated vegetables and some vitamins and minerals.
The amended complaint issued with today's consent also includes charges that GNC made false claims that six food supplements would enable users to lose weight, retard aging, or build muscle. The six food supplements are: "Challenge Growth and Training Vita-Pak," "Challenge Free Form Amino Acids," "Life Expander Growth Hormone Releaser," "24 Hour Diet Plan," "L- Arginine," and "L-Ornithine."
The consent agreement prohibits GNC from falsely claiming that government reports support the use of products such as Healthy Greens to reduce cancer risk. The consent also prohibits GNC from misrepresenting any scientific test with respect to any product's ability to affect disease.
The amended complaint also charges that GNC falsely claimed it had a reasonable basis for its claims about Healthy Greens and the six food supplements. The consent agreement prohibits GNC from making disease-related claims for any product without having competent and reliable scientific evidence. However, the consent agreement provides that GNC will not be liable for claims on package labels or inserts for products sold in its stores if they are: manufactured and distributed by a third party without input from GNC; generally available at competing retail outlets; not identified with GNC in any way, such as with its logo; and which GNC does not advertise or promote.
Commissioner Mary L. Azcuenaga said she dissented from accepting the proposed consent order because it "leaves GNC free to sell products that it knows are deceptively labeled." She stated, "I believe that the order should hold GNC liable if it knows that the packaging of these products contains unsubstantiated claims."
The FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection brought the original charges involving Healthy Greens; the Chicago Regional Office handled the investigation of the other food supplements.
- FTC Docket No. D-9175. Decision, 111 FTC 387.
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This page was posted on August 27, 2006.