"Just three minutes a day won't make you thin," said the Federal Trade Commission.
With that, the FTC announced that it has filed deceptive advertising charges against the marketers of the Ab Circle Pro exercise device, pitched in infomercials by fitness celebrity Jennifer Nicole Lee.
The defendants agreed to a settlement of as much as $25 million to the consumers who bought the device, which cost $200 to $250. As part of the settlement, customers can apply for a refund. The size of the refund will depend on the number of people who file for one.
In its infomercials, Fitness Brands Inc. claimed that a three-minute workout with the Ab Circle Pro, a fiberglass disk with stationary handlebars on which users knelt and rotated their bodies, was the equivalent of 100 sit-ups. One infomercial included testimony from a user who claimed to have lost as much as 60 pounds. Lee said that she lost 80 pounds after using the device.
The settlement does not constitute an admission by the company that it violated the law, the FTC said.
"The FTC reminds marketers that they should think twice before promising a silver-bullet solution to a health problem - whether it involves losing weight or curing cancer," said David Vladeck, Director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. "Weight loss is hard work, and telling consumers otherwise is deceptive."
Multiple infomercials aired more than 10,000 times between March 2009 and May 2010.
The FTC named as defendants Fitness Brands Inc., its two owners, that marketer Direct Holdings America Inc., and Jennifer Nicole Lee and the two companies she controls.
A message requesting comment from Lee was not immediately returned. Messages were also left with attorneys representing Fitness Brands.
Two years ago, Consumer Reports reviewed a number of products touted in infomercials and said the Ab Circle Pro "burns no more calories than brisk walking."
The FTC warns consumers to be cautious about clothing or devices that claim to improve fitness or lead to weight-loss, particularly in one area of the body.
Consumers should also be wary of before-and-after photos from "satisfied" customers, which may not reflect the results users get, the FTC said.