Advertising the health benefits of a product like pomegranate juice is one thing, but when you start claiming that it can reduce the risk of cancer, heart disease and impotence you'd better have the scientific data to back it up. This is a lesson that Pom Wonderful recently learned the hard way when a federal judge ordered the company to halt its current advertising campaign after finding that it lacked sufficient evidence to support any of its juice's purported benefits.
However, while POM Wonderful may be the latest company in the health industry to be convicted of misleading its customers, it certainly isn't the guiltiest. Since the dawn of civilization, product pushers have inflated the medical benefits of their products to woo the self-conscious and the hypochondriacal. For instance, here are five recent examples of egregiously misleading health and fitness ads.

Reebok's EasyTone Shoes
In 2009 and 2010, Reebok ran a series of ads for its EasyTone and RunTone shoes featuring lithe and toned models professing the benefits of the footwear's special toning soles. The ads claimed that laboratory tests had found that Tone shoes were "proven to work your hamstrings and calves up to 11% harder and tone your butt up to 28% more than regular sneakers … just by walking!" Apparently, the special uneven sole of the shoe forced you to use more muscles when you moved. The LA Times reported that an FTC investigation found the only thing that EasyTone shoes actually did was make it uncomfortable to walk. As a result, Reebok was forced to refund more than $25 million in purchases.

Airborne Herbal Supplement
For a while, Airborne seemed like a classic American success story. The result of a second grade teacher's research, the herbal supplement became a national phenomenon after it appeared to finally provide the cure/prevention for the common cold that science had yet to figure out. For 10 years it reigned as the leading cold prevention supplement on the market - and then the FTC got interested. According to npr.org, a federal investigation found that the anecdotal benefits of Airborne were just another example of the placebo effect. In reality, the tablets did absolutely nothing to boost the immune system or prevent colds. This incited a class-action lawsuit against the company that Airborne finally settled in 2008 for $23.3 million.

Dannon Activia Yogurt
Jamie Lee Curtis might be enthusiastic about the health benefits of Dannon's Activia line of yogurts, but the FTC isn't. In 2009, a federal judge found that Dannon's claims that a daily serving of Activia would relieve irregularity and help expedite the digestion process were totally unsubstantiated. It turned out the company had been charging a 30% premium on the "probiotic" yogurts over other brands when in reality the contents in the cups were all the same. As a result, the company was forced to pay out $35 million to consumers in a 2009 class-action lawsuit and another $21 million to the FTC a year later, as reported by ABC News.

Extenze
"Male enhancement" products are a dime-a-dozen these days, but none have enjoyed as much success as Extenze. Manufactured by California-based Biotab Nutraceuticals, the little purple pill has been a staple of late-night television ads with its innocuous theme song and pep talks by NFL personality and former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson. According to the National Council Against Health Fraud, in a ruling that surprised nobody, the Orange County District Attorney's office found in 2010 that Biotab completely fabricated all of its scientific and clinical evidence regarding the "enhancive capabilities" of Extenze. Biotab was forced to pay out $6 million in damages and offer another $6 million in Extenze Racing merchandise as a refund to its customers.

The Bottom Line
Looking at the amount of misleading advertisements that pervade modern media, consumers should be wary any time they hear that a product is "scientifically proven" to work. Unless the advertiser specifically states that its claims have been validated by the FDA, there's no reason to trust any purported medical benefits of any piece of merchandise, whether it's shoes or cold medicine. Often, these health and fitness products are just modern interpretations of the snake oil that bankrupted early settlers in the Wild West. So the next time you're tempted to buy a product that looks too good to be true, just save your money – because it probably is.

Related Articles
  1. Credit & Loans

    A FICO-free Loan? See SoFi's Super Bowl Ad

    Non-bank lender SoFi will air its first TV ad during Super Bowl 50. Here's how it's challenging big banks by providing an alternative approach to loans.
  2. Investing News

    Super Savings for Your Super Bowl Party? Bet on It

    Prices for wings, avocados and TVs are all coming down, which will make your Super Bowl 50 festivities less costly.
  3. Investing

    5 Up and Coming Social Media Startups

    Although the days of Facebook's dominance aren't close to being over, here are some new creative platforms gaining traction on the worldwide web.
  4. Investing News

    Zika: Study Says This Device Could Protect You

    New research just uncovered an inexpensive, commercially available device that might help fight off the mosquito that carries the dreaded Zika virus.
  5. Personal Finance

    Zika Virus: Latest Advice on Staying Safe

    Zika has hit the U.S. Here’s a quick review of what’s known about the virus, how it spreads, who’s at highest risk and how to avoid it.
  6. Investing

    3 Small Steps to Maximize Your Investing Goals

    Instead of starting the New Year with ambitious resolutions, why not taking smaller manageable steps that can have a real impact.
  7. Investing News

    How Zika Is Infecting the Travel Industry

    The Zika virus is declared a public health emergency as airlines, cruise lines and other travel companies accommodate customers and assess the damage.
  8. Investing News

    Alphabet Earnings Beat Expectations (GOOGL, AAPL)

    Alphabet's earnings crush analysts' expectations; now bigger than Apple?
  9. Investing News

    Are Super Bowl Ads Worth Their High Cost?

    Are Super Bowl ads worth the investment? A look at the cost and how they're received.
  10. Investing

    Barbie's Body Wasn't the Problem (opinion)

    Barbie's body type wasn't what killed sales, argues Angela Travillian. Other factors were at play.
RELATED FAQS
  1. Can CareCredit be used for family members?

    CareCredit has become a widely used option when it comes to paying for medical procedures, primarily procedures not typically ... Read Full Answer >>
  2. Does dental insurance cover crowns?

    Dental insurance coverage may vary according to the type of plan and the level of benefits that you have elected. Most dental ... Read Full Answer >>
  3. Are Flexible Spending Account (FSA) contributions tax deductible?

    The contributions you make to your Flexible Spending Account (FSA) are not tax-deductible because the accounts are funded ... Read Full Answer >>
  4. Does a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) cover Lasik?

    Flexible spending accounts (FSA) can be used to pay for qualifying LASIK procedures. LASIK is not the only laser eye surgery ... Read Full Answer >>
  5. Are Flexible Spending Account (FSA) expenses tax deductible?

    Flexible Spending Account (FSA) expenses are not tax deductible. The U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS) states you cannot ... Read Full Answer >>
  6. Does a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) cover acupuncture?

    A Flexible Spending Account (FSA) covers acupuncture. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has defined acupuncture as a qualifying ... Read Full Answer >>
Hot Definitions
  1. Super Bowl Indicator

    An indicator based on the belief that a Super Bowl win for a team from the old AFL (AFC division) foretells a decline in ...
  2. Flight To Quality

    The action of investors moving their capital away from riskier investments to the safest possible investment vehicles. This ...
  3. Discouraged Worker

    A person who is eligible for employment and is able to work, but is currently unemployed and has not attempted to find employment ...
  4. Ponzimonium

    After Bernard Madoff's $65 billion Ponzi scheme was revealed, many new (smaller-scale) Ponzi schemers became exposed. Ponzimonium ...
  5. Quarterly Earnings Report

    A quarterly filing made by public companies to report their performance. Included in earnings reports are items such as net ...
Trading Center