Any claims that an exercise device can help with weight or fat loss or improve muscle tone would need to be supported by robust evidence in the form of clinical trials. If any effect from using a device is temporary, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) would likely expect that to be made clear.
Broadly speaking, exercise devices can be separated into “active” and “passive” categories.
See: Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Guidance on Substantiation for health, beauty and slimming claims.
- Active devices
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 previously 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
Passive devices purport to provide benefits without the user having to exercise consciously. The ASA and CAP have yet to see evidence that a reduction in weight can be achieved without an increase in energy expenditure.
The ASA and CAP have seen multiple ads for ‘vibration platforms’ which users either stand on or rest parts of their body on.
The ASA has previously considered evidence which demonstrated that a Whole Body Vibration (WBV) was associated with a small increase in fat free (i.e. lean) mass when used alongside an exercise programme and a healthy diet. As such, it may be possible for marketers to make claims that that the device can help you “stay in shape” (subject to evidence) provided claims are presented clearly in the context of also engaging in regular exercise and a calories restricted diet.
Furthermore, assuming a progressive programme is adhered to, the ASA has previously accepted that a combination of WBV and conventional training can enhance training outcomes over a quicker period. Marketers should not however, claim these results could be achieved in a specific time period because users would need to increase their work out time as they get fitter if they wish to continue to see results.
In 2014, the ASA ruled that the claim “10 minutes = 1 hour workout” had not been 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) was misleading because the evidence submitted 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 also not imply that any 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).
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).
- Muscle stimulators
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. 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 without robust clinical trial evidence.
In 2020 the ASA considered claims that a muscle stimulating device could be “your personal body toner, who firms and tones your abs, helps shape your waistline and easily fits in with your lifestyle. Clinically proven with results from four weeks”. The ASA interpreted the ad to mean that users could reduce their waste size due to increased muscle tone within the specified four-week period.
Whilst some clinical evidence was submitted, it was not considered to be sufficiently robust to support the claims in the ad (Bio-medical Research Ltd, 10 March 2021).
- Exercise in a controlled environment
A third category exists, for which subjects are required to exercise actively in a controlled environment. The ASA has previously rejected 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).
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 ASA. CAP’s AdviceOnline entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
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