A Southern California weight loss company that claimed consumers would lose weight by sprinkling its “Tastants” – flavored crystals - on food must pay more than $900,000 to settle a false advertising lawsuit filed by a group of mostly Bay Area-based district attorneys.
The settlement, signed in Santa Cruz last week, was between a statewide Nutritional Supplemental Task Force and Sensa, a company based in El Segundo, which is known for its "sprinkle diet," according to Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney Yen B. Dang, of the office's consumer protection unit.
Her office, along with prosecutors in Santa Cruz, Alameda, Marin, Monterey, Napa, Orange, Solano and Sonoma, comprise the nutritional task force.
The case was never about if Sensa helps people lose weight.
The civil suit was about Sensa's claims online that its weight-loss effects had been clinically proven in the “largest clinical study” ever conducted. Dang said the study was "not competent and reliable," which are Federal Trade Commission guidelines required for selling nutritional supplements. Sensa can sell its products, it just can't advertise that it has the "largest clinical study." On Monday, its website stated the study is among the largest, and it does not have the word "clinical" in it. To read the study, click here.
Sensa also advertised a secondary double-blind placebo study, which was clinically approved, Dang said, but it was much smaller and couldn't offer the claim that it was "the largest."
“This company’s spurious claims preyed upon a nation struggling with serious weight-related health issues,including obesity and diabetes,’’ Dang said. “People seeking to lose weight should eat healthy and balanced meals, exercise regularly and see a doctor for advice about weight loss. Beware of companies touting miracle diets.”
Sensa's attorney, Jeffrey Richardson, sent NBC Bay Area an emailed statement, saying in part, that the settlement represent's the company's decision "to bring to a close the dispute."
The email also stated: "Sensa stands behind its weight loss products and the results they provide to consumers."
As part of the settlement. Sensa Products, LLC and Intelligent Beauty Inc., the parent corporation, are forbidden from making any claims regarding the efficacy or effects of any of their products without possessing competent and reliable scientific evidence that substantiates the claims.
The settlement also prohibits the company from continuing to charge customers for shipments sent after a customer has asked to stop the shipments. The companies may not enroll customers in an automatic shipment program without a clear disclosure of the customer's obligations.
As part of the final judgment, Sensa agreed to pay civil penalties and costs in the amount of $800,000 to be used for the enforcement of consumer protection laws. The court also ordered Sensa and Intelligent Beauty to pay $105,000 in restitution to California consumers.
Sensa and its products have appeared on Dateline NBC, The Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, The CBS Early Show, Good Morning America and Extra TV.