Diet and Exercise

Permanent Weight Loss Puffery

We’re nearing the end of diet season, but permanent weight loss puffery isn’t going anywhere. It used to be that promising permanent weight loss would land you in trouble with the FTC. But somehow, the upstart Noom is making a business of it. Much to the dismay of WW International (formerly Weight Watchers), the Noom weight loss app has quadrupled its revenue, mostly by promising “life-long results.”

Sweet Little Lies

The unfortunate truth of people spending money on weight loss is that magical thinking rules the day. Our culture fills us with lies about body size and shape being a reflection of what people choose for themselves. But the truth is that it’s mostly shaped by genes and environment. Personal choices are merely icing on the cake (sorry-not-sorry about that metaphor).

That fundamental lie drives people to believe that they must be doing something wrong that gave them the body they’re living in. And so they seek out programs and products that offer fantastic results. But typical results are both modest and fleeting. With great effort, most people can lose five to ten percent of their weight. After that, most people will regain most or part of what they lose. The only way to prevent weight regain is to maintain or increase the effort that brought the weight loss in the first place.

It’s not futile, but it’s far from simple. Physiology is powerful and it works to restore the prior fat mass.

Thus, sweet little lies suggesting that permanent weight loss can be yours for a price tempt both businesses and their customers.

Advertising Puffery

Naturally, WW didn’t like it when Noom started explicitly knocking its brand while making promises about life-long results. The older company has scars to prove you’re not supposed to promise permanent weight loss. So they sued. And lost.

The judge ruled that Noom claims were typical advertising puffery, not false advertising. And so it seems that in an age where consumers believe less and less in weight loss, the rules around how to advertise and attract customers are changing.

Perhaps that’s why Weight Watchers is now WW. And Noom is selling itself successfully as a behavioral psychology product. Customers might not know what behavioral psychology is. But they heard it on a podcast. And it sounds good.

It’s a new world for weight loss puffery.

Click here and here for more perspective on WW and Noom.

Diet and Exercise, photograph © Tyler Hewitt / flickr

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February 2, 2020

One Response to “Permanent Weight Loss Puffery”

  1. February 03, 2020 at 3:19 am, Mary-Jo said:

    These weight-loss businesses are not going away, regardless of all the hoops they go to in puffing themselves up and competing for clients. So, we have to try to figure out what we can do to to make them more helpful/in line with best practices for people. Maybe we can advocate for these businesses to include in their mission and advertising a disclaimer of sorts with something like : ‘Permanent weight loss is very difficult, even unlikely to sustain given the physiological nature of disease of obesity.’ Then, they can puff up all they like the benefits of their programs which I see more as helping people eat more wholesome, balanced diets.