Kim, Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian permit the use of their names and images of their curvaceous bodies to promote “QuickTrim” diet products, a line of dietary supplements making overblown claims typical of the weight loss supplement industry. Their personal testimonies and formidable publicity machine (Kim alone has over 13 million followers on Twitter), “has reportedly generated $45 million in revenue since they struck the deal with New Jersey-based Windmill Health Products in 2009,” according to the N.Y. Post. Naturally, the sisters are paid for their efforts, although how that amount is calculated or how much they receive apparently is not a matter of public record.
Some Quick Trim consumers who are not as enthused about the products as the Kardashians filed two class action lawsuits last year alleging violation of consumer protection and other state and federal laws. One is pending in New York and the other in California. The judge in the California suit issued a preliminary approval of a settlement in March, a subject we’ll get to in a minute.
Keeping up with the Kardashians
For those of you lucky enough to live in a corner of the planet where news of every Kardashian family spat, marriage, divorce, pregnancy, baby and assorted other details of their extensively chronicled lives are not forced upon you via every popular media delivery device available, a bit of background is in order. Kim, Khloe and Kourtney Kardashian are sisters and stars of their own popular American TV reality show, Keeping Up With the Kardashians. The sole premise of the show appears to be that there are a lot of people extremely interested in keeping up with the Kardashians and that premise appears to be correct.
The show, which also features their mother, Kris Jenner, wife of Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner (who is not the sisters’ father) and various Kardashian husbands, ex-husbands, boyfriends . . . well, you get the idea. The show generated several reality show spinoffs, Kourtney and Khloe Take Miami, Kourtney and Kim Take New York, and Khloe & Lamar, Lamar being Khloe’s husband, NBA player Lamar Odom. These shows, as well as product endorsements and other commercial activities, have made the sisters multi-millionaires. Apparently these folks employ an army of publicists who ensure that the media, and you, are kept well informed of pretty much everything they want you to know about themselves, which is an awful lot. In short, the Kardashians are famous for being famous.
The New York Lawsuit
Several people who purchased QuickTrim in a number of different states brought suit in New York federal district court seeking compensatory and punitive damages in an amount greater than $5,0000,000 (but not otherwise specified), as well as injunctive relief, on behalf of themselves and a class of other QuickTrim product purchasers. Cowan et al. v. Windmill Health Products, LLC et al., Case No. 1:12-cv-01541-VM-AJP (S.D.N.Y.) has not yet been certified as a class action by the court. The Kardashian sisters, as well as companies involved in the manufacture and sale of QuickTrim products, including GNC, the retail and on-line dietary supplement seller, are named as defendants.
The suit alleges statements made by the Kardashians in advertising and the products’ labels are false and misleading, in violation of various state and federal consumer protection laws. In addition, the suit alleges that QuickTrim’s individual product weight loss and appetite suppression claims and the whole QuickTrim system, which is touted as working “synergistically” to promote weight loss and weight control, are actually drug claims within the meaning of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act. Because the products do not have FDA approval, plaintiffs claim their distribution also violates the Act.
The “Quick Trim Weight Loss System” includes:
- QuickTrim Extreme Burn
- QuickTrim Fast Cleanse
- QuickTrim Burn & Cleanse
- QuickTrim Hot Stix (“an antioxidant rich, delicious berry drink mix”)
- QuickTrim Sugar & Carb Cheater
- QuickTrim Fast Shake
- QuickTrim Satisfy (a “chocolate fudge soft chew” to “help satisfy between meal cravings”)
- QuickTrim Celluslim (a “body sculpting gel” to fight cellulite, smooth tone and firm, and spot-treat problem areas)
QuickTrim’s claims of easy weight loss and “detoxification” sound depressingly familiar. With apologies for the lengthy quote, the complaint alleges the following product misrepresentations, lifting language directly from product labels and ads:
QuickTrim’s labeling and advertising represents that QuickTrim products (a) are effective for “weight loss,” (b) use “research proven ingredients,” (c) “safely work to help burn calories [and] curb cravings,” (d) that the “sustained release formula allows for greater absorption and controlled release of nutrients providing optimum calorie burning,” (e) are “synergistically designed to work together” with other QuickTrim formulas,(f) “Help Cleanse and Detoxify,” (g) “Help Jump-Start Weight Loss,” (h) “Help Reduce Belly Bloating,” (i) “Help Jump Start Your Weight Loss,” (j) “Help Burn More Calories by Day,” (k) will “Flush Out [your] System Overnight,” (l) “stimulate metabolism to burn more calories and fat through the day,” (m) “help to release and burn stored fat,” (n) “help to remove toxins and impurities out of your system,” (o) “help remove excess water from under the skin,” (p) “Help Block Excess Sugar & Carbs,” (q) “Help Curb Carbohydrate Cravings,” (r) “increase the body’s ability to burn stored fats and decrease the appearance of cellulite while helping increase firmness and elasticity,” (s) “Increase lipolytic effect by 630%,” (t) “Release stored lipids at adipocytes 1064%,” (u) “Reduce indentation by 9.5%,” (v) “Reduce roughness by 32.4%,” (w) “Decrease fat deposits by 33%,” (x) “Help increase circulation to problem areas,” (y) “Help tone, smooth and firm skin,” (z) “attack cellulite by breaking down excess fat stored in the cells,” (aa) “[are] scientifically designed and clinically shown to work with your body naturally to help increase your ability to burn calories,” and also to “reduce carbohydrate cravings,” (bb) “ha[ve] been clinically tested and shown to increase metabolism by burning 278 calories (on average) per day”.
(I’ve removed some of the attorney’s editing, which is necessary for quotations in a document filed with the court but which also makes the quote harder to read.)
I searched the FDA website and could not find that the agency has issued a warning letter to any of the defendants or taken any other regulatory action regarding the QuickTrim products.
Interestingly, according to the complaint, the Kardashian sisters represented that they personally formulated and tested QuickTrim products “to make sure that this was something that really works.” I guess they are scientists in addition to being reality TV stars.
These products are not cheap. You can buy them online for between $12 to $30 a package, depending on the product and the amount supplied, but there is a hefty shipping and handling charge for most sellers, up to $14 per product. A package will last you, again depending on the product, up to 30 days.
The defendants deny any wrongdoing in their answers to the complaint. Specifically, the Kardashian sisters state in their answer
. . .that they have used QuickTrim products, and that they base their statements about QuickTrim products (including on Twitter and Facebook) on their honest opinions, experiences and beliefs about the products.
In a U.S. News & World Report article about QuickTrim and the New York lawsuit, registered dietitian Keri Gans and Adriane Fugh-Berman, a physician and associate professor in the complementary and alternative medicine master’s degree program at Georgetown University Medical Center (sigh), criticized several QuickTrim products and their unproven ingredients. (The reporters said QuickTrim did not respond to repeated requests for comment.)
According to the article, the “Burn and Cleanse 14 Day Diet System” contains products for both morning and evening which provide a total of 400 milligrams of caffeine per day, the equivalent of about 4 cups of coffee, as well as piperine (black pepper) and white willow bark extract, both of which can increase the potency of caffeine.
‘It irritates me that they’re not saying how much caffeine is in these pills,’ Fugh-Berman says. ‘Too much caffeine can make you jittery and increase your blood pressure and pulse. If you pop a couple of these pills with your Starbucks coffee, that’s not good; you could get caffeine poisoning, which can cause heart arrhythmias.’
“IsoCleanse and Flush Herbal Complex,” the evening product, is a combination of “natural” stimulants and bulk laxatives, designed to increase the movement of food and liquid through the body. This is fine, said Fugh-Berman, if you are constipated. If you’re not, “you’ll get diarrhea.” In addition, “stimulant laxatives, of which IsoCleanse is chock-full, can cause your intestines to become dependent on them for stimulation, causing constipation if you stop.”
“Fast Cleanse,” a “48-hour Super Diet Detox,” is a drink rich in fiber ingested four times a day between meals of clear soups, gelatin, fruits and vegetables. This may cause you to drop of few pounds, but Fugh-Berman says you’ll be “putting them right back on.” “Sugar & Carb Cheater” is designed for dieters concerned “that their sugar and carbohydrate intake is keeping them heavy.” I suppose a sensible solution would be to reduce one’s sugar and carb intake, but that’s just me. For those seeking a less taxing solution, the “Cheater” contains chromium, fenugreek seed, bilberry fruit, and vanadyl sulfate and is touted to keep carbs from turning into fat by blocking the enzyme that causes the conversion. To Gans, the registered dietician, “scientifically, it doesn’t make sense . . . It’s offering people false hope.”
Fugh-Berman doesn’t think anyone should take these products. Healther Mangieri, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association added, “The good news is that these products are absolutely not necessary for weight loss. My suggestion is to leave them on the shelf.” Good advice all around.
In March, the judge stayed the New York suit pending the outcome of a proposed settlement in the California case. If the settlement gets final approval, the plaintiffs in the New York suit would be included in the class of QuickTrim product purchasers in the California suit, because its scope is nationwide, unless they opt out of the class, which they say they will do. However, unless their suit covers a different time period than the California action (product purchases made between August 14, 2009 and March 1, 2013), the New York plaintiffs will be able to pursue their claims only as individuals, not as representatives of a class of purchasers, barring some highly unlikely circumstances.
The California Lawsuit
So let us move from the East Coast to the West and to Anaya v. Quick Trim, LLC, et al., Case No. CIV VS 1201177, pending before the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Bernardino. The same defendants are named, plus Kris Jenner, Jenner Communications, Inc., and additional sellers of QuickTrim products, the CVS pharmacy chain, Walmart, Amazon.com, and Drugstore.com. Also named is Vitaquest International, a New Jersey company that formulates, develops and manufactures dietary supplements for its clients. (I can just imagine the Kardashian sisters in their crisp white lab coats formulating and testing QuickTrim products in the Vitaquest laboratories.) Finally, three corporations with the cutie-pie names Kimsaprincess, Inc., Khlomoney, Inc. and 2Die4Kourt, Inc., are named as defendants.
(And here I will switch, for reasons of economy, from the actual documents filed in the New York action, which can be viewed as they appear in the court’s files for a reasonable charge, to the information available on a website set up by the California settlement administrator, which can be viewed for free. Viewing the actual documents from the California court’s files costs up to $50 per document.)
Like its New York counterpart, this suit seeks certification as a class action on behalf of purchasers of the same eight QuickTrim products. The California state court has issued a preliminary approval of a class action settlement, the details of which can be found on the website, although not nearly as much information as is available in the New York case.
The plaintiff alleges that improper statements were contained on the product labels and in advertisements, and that these statements violate state consumer protection laws and various other state and federal laws. She seeks, among other remedies, damages and injunctive relief. As is usual in such settlements, the defendants deny any wrongdoing.
If the settlement is approved, plaintiff’s counsel will get $250,000 in fees and costs and the named plaintiff, Teresa Anaya, will get $2,500. QuickTrim will have to “redesign its labeling and packaging to restate the nature of its products and its benefits.” Members of the class who file a claim (other than those who opt out of the settlement) receive different amounts depending on where they bought the product and whether they have proof of purchase. Basically, they can get either a refund or a coupon good towards purchase of another QuickTrim product. In other words, the defendants have managed to turn the settlement into a product promotion event.
We’ll have to wait until August, when the settlement proposal will have a final hearing, to find out what happens.
This is yet another tale of outlandish dietary supplement claims, testimonial “evidence” of effectiveness and the failure of the DSHEA to adequately protect consumers by preventing this sort of thing from happening in the first place. As I have said before, lawsuits are not the ideal way of bringing supplement companies and their enablers to justice. But until the federal law is amended, these suits remain the best way to apply some brakes to the runaway dietary supplement industry.