Nutrisystem: When $55 in savings costs $180 a month!

As far as advertising goes, weight loss commercials don't exactly have a stellar reputation, but the latest batch of commercials from Nutrisystem really takes the cake. In the spots, Nutrisystem claims that the actual cost of the meal replacement program is $55 less than the average American spends on groceries!

The problem with this statement is that in order for Nutrisystem to reach this astounding number they have to cook the books a little bit. According the fine print on one commercial featuring Marie Osmond; while on the Nutrisystem diet, "you add-in fresh fruit, vegetables, salads and dairy items."

A few seconds later -- while size 72 font proclaims a savings of $55 a month versus shopping on your own -- the fine print lets viewers know that this number does not include the cost of aforementioned fresh foods and that the savings is based on the, "Official USDA Food Plans: Liberal food plan, Sept. 2008." which is available online for all to see on the USDA website.

In order to verify the accuracy of these claims we started crunching the numbers ourselves.

Given that the lowest Nutrisystem plan costs $299 for a 28-day period, it is possible to find a demographic whose monthly grocery bill is $55 less than the USDA Liberal food plan so long as you don't count the money spent on fruits, vegetables and milk.

However the savings disappear quicker than Marie's 1st marriage if you count the total cost! According to the USDA's liberal food plan administrative report, the same source Nutrisystem used to calculate the savings, the cost of fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy products would account for almost 60% of Marie's food spending, or $181 a month on top of the Nutrisystem plan. A 19-50 year old male would also face similar fresh food costs while on the Nutrisystem plan; that's a pretty big difference from $55 a month in savings!

While the Nutrisystem diet may help some individuals lose weight, this recent advertisement is downright deceptive. Consumers should not be expected to spend 2 or 3 hours fact checking the purported savings of a product to determine if it is a valid claim. In this case a reasonable consumer would likely walk away from this commercial with the understanding that they will save money while on this diet system which is simply not true.

It's time the Federal Trade Commission makes use of the Truth in Advertising rules and cracks down on commercials whose claims are clearly contradicted by the fine print.

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