A 30-minute TV ad for for Powerfit from JML, a Whole-Body Vibration (WBV) device for weight loss, was seen on 1 October 2020. It included a voice-over that described the device, how to use it and its effects on the body. The voice-over included claims such as “Now you too could have a strong, slim and sexy body like this from the comfort of your own home with the Powerfit programme, the multi-dimensional oscillation system that engages all of your muscles from the moment you step on it […] Powerfit helps burn fat and lose weight”. The voice-over was accompanied by scenes of people with athletic builds exercising using the Powerfit product. Later on, the ad included testimonials of users who stated that they had lost weight by using Powerfit. Scenes within the ad were repeated three times over its duration.
On-screen text appeared periodically during the ad including “Results from Powerfit 3 min training & eating program” as well as “Weight loss achieved only as part of a calorie controlled diet.”
IssueThe complainant challenged whether the claims that Powerfit could assist with weight loss, fat burning or muscle toning were exaggerated and therefore misleading.
John Mills Ltd t/a JML responded that the Powerfit was a WBV device and that evidence showed that WBV could assist with weight loss, fat burning and muscle toning. They said that the Powerfit product came with additional equipment including resistance bands and a workout, dietary and recipe plan. The product was, therefore, not just the device.
JML provided a study by the European Association for the Study of Obesity, published in 2010. The efficacy of WBV machine use was tested alongside a restricted diet and exercise, which they said demonstrated that WBV could assist with fat burning and weight loss.
JML also provided the abstracts of ten studies that tested the efficacy of WBV programmes. These included: the effects of resistance training with WBV on muscle fitness in untrained adults; the effects of WBV on muscle flexibility and performance; its effects on skeletal muscle strength and cardiovascular health; on muscle strength and power; its effects on body composition and muscle strength in obese women; its effects on muscle recovery, muscle strength; and other benefits that it would have for those who used it when training.
They also provided an article from a scientific magazine that described the effects of WBV and suggested that it could assist with muscle toning, fat burning and weight loss.
Clearcast responded that the product was advertised as a bundle consisting of equipment, a diet and a workout plan. They said that the ad included on-screen text that explained to consumers that the product required both a calorie-restricted diet and exercise to work. They said that the diet plan that came with the programme had been seen by a nutritionist and was found to be safe and effective for weight loss due to reduced calories. Clearcast provided a copy of the nutritionist’s comments.
Clearcast also provided a report from an independent physiotherapist who said the claims that the programme could assist with weight-loss, fat burning and muscle toning had been substantiated. The physiotherapist considered that when used correctly the programme, alongside a calorie restricted diet should result in muscle-toning and fat reduction. Clearcast further provided ten abstracts of studies that concluded that using WBV alongside a calorie reduced diet may result in weight loss and fat reduction.
Clearcast provided a group of 28 studies into the effects of WBV training programmes on a range of conditions and circumstances, from rehabilitation of spinal cord injuries, to cardiovascular effects, bone density and flexibility. They also provided an article from a national newspaper that described studies of WBV, which reported that it could increase bone density and muscle power, and an article from a golfing magazine that made similar claims.
The ad featured images of the Powerfit machine prominently throughout and included repeated claims such as “Now you too could have a strong, slim and sexy body like this from the comfort of your own home with the Powerfit programme, the multi-dimensional oscillation system that engages all of your muscles from the moment you step on it […] Powerfit helps burn fat and lose weight”. The ad included images of people with sculpted physiques doing exercises on the device, as well as images of people standing on the machine rather than exercising. The ad also featured a number of before and after shots of people who had used the device which showed significant rates of weight loss. Testimonials were also included where people made reference to using the Powerfit to exercise but who did not mention dieting.
The ASA noted JML’s explanation that the Powerfit machine included an instruction manual that detailed exercises and a diet plan that consumers should follow when using the product in order to lose weight. We acknowledged that on-screen text which appeared periodically throughout the ad referred to the need to actively exercise on the device and follow a calorie-restricted diet. However, we considered that the ad’s overall emphasis, through the prominent imagery, voice-over claims and testimonials, was on the device itself rather than on its part in a combined programme of exercise and calorie restricted diet. We therefore considered that consumers would understand from the overall impression created by the ad that the machine was the direct cause of significant rates of weight loss, fat burning and muscle toning, outside of the context of a calorie restricted diet and exercise programme. We considered that the on-screen text was not sufficient to counteract that overall impression.
The ASA had previously assessed evidence relating to the efficacy of WBV machines and had concluded that evidence had been provided to show that WBV was associated with a small increase in fat-free (i.e. lean) mass. Claims which were likely to be acceptable included those to “Shape up and/or Stay in Shape”. However, we considered consumers would interpret the ad as going further than those moderate claims, and implied that significant amounts of weight loss, fat burning and muscle toning were a direct result of using the machine. We therefore considered whether the substantiation provided was sufficient to demonstrate that impression.
The 2010 study involved 79 participants classed as overweight or obese who were divided into four groups: a control group; a calorie restricted diet group; a group that performed aerobic exercises whilst dieting; and a group that dieted and used WBV. The WBV training proportion of the study comprised a programme of exercises that included static positions and anaerobic moves designed by a physiotherapist. The study showed that only the participants using the WBV programme achieved sustained weight loss of above 10% over the course of a year. This was significantly different to participants in the diet only group who saw sustained weight loss of around 4% and participants who dieted and did aerobic exercise who lost 6%.
The study concluded that combining aerobic exercise or WBV training with a calorie restricted diet could help achieve sustained long-term weight loss. It also concluded that there was the potential for WBV training to be more effective than aerobic exercise when paired with a calorie restricted diet for obese adults who wanted to lose weight.
We noted that the study was a pilot study with a small sample group, and the conclusion stated that further study would be necessary to establish the effectiveness of WBV. Of the 79 participants, 21 were placed in the control group, and the remaining were randomly assigned to the other three groups. It had a dropout rate of 22%, of which the highest was the diet only portion which lost 8 participants and the WBV group which lost 5. Because of that, we considered that although the results of the study did appear to show a significant benefit to WBV in combination with dieting compared to aerobic exercise, or dieting alone, we agreed with the study’s conclusion that further testing was required to confirm the results. We also noted that the study was focused on adults who were obese or overweight by BMI (Body Mass Index) and we considered that, in order to substantiate the efficacy of WBV for muscle toning, we would additionally need to see results for adults who were not overweight, to substantiate whether the athletic figures shown in the ad were achievable. Of those who did complete the course, none finished with a normal BMI. We considered that consumers would understand from the images of people with athletic figures that those figures were achievable by using Powerfit, and the study provided did not support that understanding.
Because the study did not include a group who used only the WBV, it was not possible to separate out the effects of using WBV from the effects of the diet that was followed. For those reasons, we considered that the study was not sufficiently robust to support the overall impression in the ad that using the Powerfit machine alone would assist with weight loss, fat burning or muscle toning.
JML and Clearcast also provided a range of studies and articles which examined WBV’s effects on bone density, metabolic rate and other conditions; for example, chronic pain, arthritis, and specific claims that WBV could help with the explosive movements of some athletes. However, we considered the studies were not relevant to support the claims in the ad which related to weight loss and fat burning. The studies did contain some data that suggested that training using the WBV may assist with toning or strengthening muscles, but they focused on groups with specific health issues - for example, elderly people who had limited mobility - who were unlikely to be representative of the target audience for the ad.
We acknowledged that we had been provided with some 20 abstracts for studies that tested WBV technology, but we were not provided with the full studies and therefore we could not assess whether the methodology or findings of those studies supported the claims in the ad. Similarly, the quotes and endorsements in the newspaper article, and articles in the scientific and golfing magazines were not sufficient to assess the efficacy of Powerfit. We also acknowledged that the testimonials JML had provided were from genuine consumers who had used the Powerfit programme, including exercise and a calorie restricted diet. However, because they related to the Powerfit programme as a whole they were not sufficient to support the impression in the ad that the Powerfit machine alone would assist with significant weight loss, fat burning or muscle toning.
Because we considered that consumers would understand from JML’s ad that the main component in facilitating significant weight loss, fat burning and muscle toning was the Powerfit device, rather than the overall programme including the workout plan and diet, and we had not seen sufficient evidence to support that impression, we concluded that and the ad was misleading.
The ad breached BCAP Code rules 3.1 3.1 Advertisements must not materially mislead or be likely to do so. (Misleading advertising), 3.9 3.9 Broadcasters must hold documentary evidence to prove claims that the audience is likely to regard as objective and that are capable of objective substantiation. The ASA may regard claims as misleading in the absence of adequate substantiation. (Substantiation) and 3.12 3.12 Advertisements must not mislead by exaggerating the capability or performance of a product or service. (Exaggeration).
The ad must not appear again in its current form. We told John Mills Ltd t/a JML to ensure their ads did not claim, including through their overall impression that using the Powerfit device alone could result in weight loss, fat burning or muscle toning.