January is the month when well-intentioned consumers buy exercise equipment hoping to lose all the pounds they put on during the holidays. It is not surprising, therefore, that equipment manufacturers are now advertising their latest contraptions heavily on TV, and making all kinds of claims for them. This week, we examine the claims being made for the Bowflex TreadClimber — a combination stepper, elliptical, and treadmill all rolled into one.
Here is one of their recent commercials. Listen in particular for their calorie burning claims and the amount of weight that people claim to lose using the machine:
Their primary claim is that you can burn “up to 3.5 times the calories of a treadmill.”
The fine print indicates that their claim is based on a 2011 study by the University of Wisconsin. MrConsumer tracked down the professor at that school who conducted the actual study, asking for a copy of it. The professor wrote back:
“I am not at liberty to share the final report of the study, since the data and the results belong to the company. Please contact the company for a final report.”
So we did. And Bowflex’s PR spokesperson said:
“Our corporate policy does not permit us to disclose proprietary studies.”
MrConsumer also asked the professor a series of pointed questions about the study and the claims being made. The only one he responded to, before leaving town for 10 days, was to disclose that the company paid for the study. (And as Seinfeld would say, “not there’s anything wrong with that.”)
Having run into a roadblock at the University, Mouse Print* turned to the company for answers to some tough questions.
For example, we found a graphic on the company’s own website that seemed to contradict the 3.5x claim and burning 612 calories in 30 minutes:
So we asked the company which was it — 3.5x the calories/612 calories burned or twice the calories/321 calories burned?
[that graphic was] “from a study conducted in 2004 with older technology, in which participants burned up to 321 calories. Since then, we have redesigned our TreadClimber® machines and have conducted new independent research from a university which determined users can burn up to 3.5 times (612 calories) on a TreadClimber® machine vs walking on a treadmill.”
The company also makes extremely large weight loss claims in their commercial.
Despite depicting users whose weight loss ranged from 24 to 88 pounds in their commercial, the fine print disclaimer told a different story:
“In a recent modality study average weight loss for participants was 18.8 lbs. Average weight loss was 17.4 lbs.”
Mouse Print* asked the company whether they thought it was fair to depict people with 50-70 pounds or more of weight loss, when the average was actually around 18, and whether they thought a tiny disclosure that appears on the screen for just a couple of seconds could actually be read and understood by the average viewer.
“Our disclaimers are positioned after every individual testimonial in our television ads. These appear up to 4-5 times over the course of each :120 spot. Like any weight loss program, all results may vary …. The 50, 70 or more pounds weight loss you reference are real results taken from testimonials from actual customers. In many instances the users state “in about 3 months” or “in my first year I lost” etc… ” — Bowflex spokesperson
In fact, none of the participants who claim weight losses above the 18-pound average states how long it took them to lose the weight in the above commercial.
So what are we as viewers to make of the TreadClimber commercial and claims? Feel free to offer your opinions in the comments.