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Formal 'caution' over Dr. Bernstein weight-loss advertising claims contested

TORONTO - A key player in the country's weight-loss industry is set to appeal a formal caution meted out to him by the body that regulates the medical profession in Ontario for violating advertising rules.

Dr. Stanley Bernstein wants the Health Professions Appeal and Review Board to overturn the caution he was given last year.

The complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons originated with lawyer Peter Rosenthal after a doctor pointed out to him that Bernstein was in breach of the rules with his advertising of his weight-loss clinics.

Rosenthal argued that Bernstein was making numerous unsubstantiated claims.

In its decision in July, the college's inquiries, complaints and reports committee upheld the complaint.

Bernstein, according to the finding, violated the advertising rules "in a number of significant ways."

Among other things, the committee faulted his use on his website of testimonials — such as M.P. lost 196 pounds in 14 months — and before-and-after photographs of allegedly successful dieters.

He also misused superlatives and failed to heed a ban on associating himself with the sale and promotion of products, the committee said.

For example, the committee took issue with Bernstein's claim to have helped "hundreds of thousands of people lose millions of pounds of excess weight and keep it off for life."

The committee found the claim "strains credulity" and is not supported by objective scientific proof.

"There are significant contraventions of legislation meant to govern members of the college to promote professionalism, and ensure public safety and confidence in the medical profession as a whole," the committee said.

The committee, which noted Bernstein had been the subject of many similar complaints, only imposed a "caution."

"It is my view that that is insufficient," Rosenthal said Monday.

In his request for a review, the lawyer pointed out the numerous complaints made about Bernstein's advertising.

He also said the committee had refused to make a finding that Bernstein had violated rules by "steering" members of the public to doctors in his clinics.

Bernstein is cross reviewing the adverse finding, arguing that even a caution was unwarranted.

In submissions to the complaints committee, Bernstein said the popularity of the "Bernstein Diet" had prompted him to open dozens of weight-loss clinics across the country.

He argued his claim of keeping weight off "for life" was not intended to mean forever, but subsequently deleted the offending words.

He also argued that making products available through his website did not amount to an endorsement of them.

Note to readers: This is a corrected story. An earlier version had an incorrect name for the committee that issued the caution.

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