Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the Advertising Standards Authority.
Exercise devices are unlikely to result in noticeable weight loss. Marketers should not suggest they can replace general exercise without strong evidence. In general, the physical activity regimen needs to expend 1,500 to 2,000 kcal a week to maintain weight loss.
Broadly speaking, exercise devices can be separated into “active” and “passive” categories.
Active devices constitute apparatus designed to help subjects exercise a specific part of their body or exercise in a specific manner (for example, dumbbells or chest expanders). As with general exercise regimes, claims such as “trim”, “tone”, “shape” or “look slimmer” are likely to be acceptable for some types of exercise. The ASA has upheld complaints against marketers for making stronger claims without suitable evidence. For example, complaints have been upheld against ads which stated that devices could “burn away energy”, replace “the calorie burning and figure tightening benefits of workout in just minutes a day” (Windsor Group, 17 March 2004) and “burn belly fat into a rock hard lean stomach...in just 7 short minutes” (Home Shopping Selections Ltd, 14 September 2005).
Passive devices purport to provide benefits without the user having to exercise consciously. They will not result in a reduction in weight unless they result in an increase in energy expenditure.
The ASA and CAP have seen extensive evidence for “vibration platforms” that users either stand on or rest parts of their body on. To date, evidence has been provided to show that Whole Body Vibration (WBV) is associated with a small increase in fat free (i.e. lean) mass. Acceptable claims include those to “Shape up and/or Stay in Shape” when used with an exercise programme and calorie restricted diet. Furthermore, assuming a progressive programme is adhered to, evidence suggests that a combination of WBV and conventional training can enhance training outcomes over a quicker period. Advertisers should not however, claim these results could be achieved in a specific time because users would need to increase their work out time as they get fitter, if they wish to continue to see results.
The ASA ruled that the claim “10 minutes = 1 hour workout" could not be substantiated (Sasaki International Ltd, 17 February 2010) and “Enjoy a Whole Body Workout While Putting Your Feet Up!” (Energy for Health Ltd, 9 April 2014) because the evidence held to support those claims was insufficient.
Unacceptable claims for vibrating platforms are that one could achieve sustained, long-term weight loss, reduce total body fat content, improve overall circulation, increase bone density, reduce cellulite, assist with the removal of toxins from the body, offer pain relief, ease aches and pains or boost skin tone and complexion (TV Network, PowerPulse, 22 August 2007).
Marketers should not imply that weight loss is a direct result of an exercise device if their evidence shows, or if users are recommended to complement using the device with a dietary programme (High Street TV (Group) Ltd, 11 September 2013).
The ASA upheld a complaint against a marketer who claimed their vibration training device was proven to help with “Weight, Inch and Fat Loss; Increased flexibility, strength and power; Increase Metabolism” and “Cellulite”. Because the ASA considered that the ad implied that the benefits of weight, inch and fat loss were a direct result of the vibrating platform and did not state the need to combine the product’s use with a diet, the ASA instructed the advertisers to amend the ad (Advanced Wellness Distribution Ltd, 5 March 2008).
In December 2010, the ASA upheld complaints about ads which stated that trainers could “reetone” with every step and that one could “get up to 28% more of a workout for your bum” and “up to 11% more for your hamstrings and calves". A single study was submitted but was considered insufficiently robust to substantiate the claims that the trainers would produce a noticeable effect on muscle tone or that this would be sustained over time (Reebok International Ltd, 1 December 2010).
The ASA accepts that when electrical stimulation devices are applied to the abdominal region they can temporarily tighten and tone muscles, and that this can be maintained with repeated use. See also: “Anti-ageing: Electrical devices for lines and wrinkles”. However, claims that muscle stimulators can be used as a slimming application, can facilitate weight and inch loss, reduce fat, help break down cellulite or fatty deposits, tighten and tone sagging body muscle, enhance muscles, restore muscle strength or change fat into muscle are unlikely to be acceptable (The Hogarth Group 7 December 2005).
The ASA has upheld complaints against marketers who could not substantiate claims about toning and tightening muscles (Tan ‘N’ Tone, 6 November 2002; Info 4 U Ltd, 4 December 2002; Health & Home Shopping, 23 January 2003; Health and Leisure Magazine, 19 January 2005, and Hogarth Group, 7 December 2005).
Exercise in a controlled envrionment
A third category exists, for which subjects are required to exercise actively in a controlled environment. The ASA rejected the claims made by a company marketing a machine that required users to cycle in a vacuum, concluding that it had not shown that the purported benefits were more than those that would result from exercise, in the absence of the device (Hypoxi UK Ltd, 17 March 2004).
Testimonials and before and after photos
Claims that relate to the product’s effects, whether they are direct, implied, visual or in the form of testimonials or endorsements, must be representative and supportable. CAP and the ASA regard the use of ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs in the same way as testimonials and marketers should therefore ensure that they meet the requirements of rules 3.45 to 3.48 of the CAP Code (Best Direct (International) Ltd 8 September 2010). See “Before and after photos”.
In one adjudication, the ASA noted that the on-screen text in an infomercial for an electronic stimulation belt stated that regular use of the product will not contribute directly to weight loss. The ASA considered that the on-screen text contradicted the impression that the toned torsos shown were a common result from using the product (Thane Direct UK Ltd, 7 October 2009). See Smallprint and Footnotes
See: “Anti-ageing: Electrical devices for lines and wrinkles”, “Weight control: Cellulite” and other Weight control entries