NCAHF's History

The National Council Against Health Fraud (NCAHF) evolved from the constituents of three separate organizations that formed independently out of concerns about health misinformation, fraud, and quackery in their communities. These were the Lehigh Valley Committee Against Health Fraud, Inc. (LVCAHF); the Southern California Council Against Health Fraud (SCCAHF); and a similar group without a formal name in northern California.

Lehigh Valley Committee Against Health Fraud (LVCAHF). The idea of forming organizations to fight quackery was originated by Stephen Barrett, M.D. In the late 1960s, Dr. Barrett read two books that aroused his concern about the problem of quackery. One was James Harvey Young's Medical Messiahs, which detailed how the government's struggle against the patent medicine industry led to the formation of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The other was Ralph Lee Smith's At Your Own Risk, which described the history of chiropractic and left Barrett outraged that an entire profession could be based on a delusional concepts (that spinal misalignments ("subluxations") were the underlying cause of disease and that spinal adjustments could be the primary means of cure. After moving to Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1967, he discovered that his dentist, H. William Gross, D.D.S., was leading a campaign to fluoridate Allentown's water supply and that the opposition was generated primarily by personnel connected with Rodale Press, publisher of Prevention Magazine, which, at that time, was the leading health-food-industry publisher. After several discussions, Drs. Barrett and Gross decided to launch a local discussion group that would address a broad range of issues involving health fraud, quackery, and misinformation. The group met in 1969 and decided to form a non-profit corporation that would act s a clearing house that would support sound public policy. For about five years, LVCAHF, Inc., met every other week and reached a membership of 40. In the late 1970s, as a national antiquackery network grew, LVCAHF discontinued its local activities but Barrett continued to operate it as an information clearinghouse.

Southern California Council Against Health Fraud (SCAHF). In 1976, spurred by the success of laetrile promoters to dupe the media and get state legislatures to bypass the consumer protection features of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, consumer health education specialist, William Jarvis, Ph.D. (then Assistant Professor in the Loma Linda University School of Dentistry's Department of Preventive and Community Dentistry) and Gordon Rick, D.D.S, M.S., (then chairman of the Department of Oral Pathology) agreed on the need for a university-based public information source that could articulate to the public the sound reasoning of science that has been encoded into consumer protection law. Jarvis and Rick proposed to the LLU administration that a consumer health studies center be established. The Center would be jointly funded by the various professional schools at LLU. Center faculty would teach consumer health courses or give lectures in courses already established in the Schools to help students become more aware of and able to deal with controversial health practices and consumer issues. Graduate students in the various schools who chose to do master's theses and doctoral dissertations in consumer health related fields could obtain advisement from the Center. The proposal was supported and presented to the LLU Administrative Council (LLUAC) by Elmer E. Kelln, D.D.S., M.S., Associate Dean of the School of Dentistry. The LLUAC commended but did not accept the proposal because of concerns about how an entity would fit within the university's organization of autonomous schools. Unable to establish the consumer health studies center, Jarvis and Rick sought community support for their concept.

In 1976, Jarvis visited Barrett and discussed the viability of a member-supported council against health fraud. When he asked why he become involved in consumer health education issues, Barrett replied that a person who becomes aware of a serious societal problem and has a sense of an effective solution is morally obligated to act. This answer set the moral tone for the future council's work—both believed that the community needed a voluntary health agency that would focus on health misinformation, fraud, and quackery in a manner similar to the way the American Cancer Society focuses on cancer, the American Diabetes Association focuses on diabetes, and so on. In October 1976, LLU Academic Dean, Norman Woods, Ph.D., funded a community meeting to which were invited representatives of academia, basic science, health care, law, regulatory agencies, voluntary health agencies, the media, and the public. Soon afterward, those who had attended the meeting and other interested persons established a network and, in 1977, incorporated the nonprofit Southern California Council Against Health Fraud. The articles of incorporation were signed by Jarvis, Ronald M. Deutsch (author of a best-selling anti-quackery book entitled Nuts Among The Berries, Raymond West, M.D., a LLU faculty member, Daniel Oliver, D.D.S.) a dentist in private practice), and Joan Oliver, (a dental hygienist). SCCAHF had 22 original members and began operations as part of Jarvis's community dentistry activities. Although antifluoridationism and cancer quackery were primary issues, SCCAHF included all controversial consumer health issues within its scope.

Northern California Group. In the mid-1970s, Jarvis learned that Thomas H. Jukes, Ph.D, of the University of California at Berkeley, shared his strong interest in combating health misinformation and quackery and had also been communicating with Barrett. Dr. Jukes was well-known because of his scientific publications, many of which challenged misleading health information and its promoters. Jukes and oncologist-hematologist Wallace I. Sampson, MD, had formulated plans to organize a group with similar objectives to those of NCAHF and LVCAHF.

California Council Against Health Fraud. In December 1977, with help from volunteer attorney Cyrus (Jack) Lemmon, Jr., the Northern California Council Against Health Fraud was launched. In 1978, the Jukes-Sampson group joined with SCCAHF to form the California Council Against Health Fraud. CCAHF published a newsletter that became popular among health professionals throughout the United States who joined as members.

National Council Against Health Fraud. In 1984, after it was determined that the majority of CCAHF members lived outside of California, the CCAHF changed its name and adopted a national scope. At its peak NCAHF has about 1,000 members.

Misrepresentations. Several writers have falsely claimed that NCAHF was started by the American Medical Association (AMA) and is financially supported by the drug industry. These falsehoods have been picked up and promulgated by others. Specious allegations of this nature were made in The Great Medical Monopoly Wars (Lisa, 1986) and later in Racketeering In Medicine (Carter, 1992). Maverick physician Robert Atkins also falsely stated in Dr. Atkins' Health Revolution (1988) that NCAHF was linked to the pharmaceutical industry. NCAHF acquired evidence that Lisa deliberately fabricated his misinformation. Carter and Atkins could have made a good faith effort to check out the validity of Lisa's lies but did not. Lisa continued his disinformation campaign in Assault on Medical Freedom (1994) in which he alleged that NCAHF and drug companies are engaged in a conspiracy to suppress "alternative" medicine. Such charges were apparently designed to draw attention from the true issues. NCAHF held that consumers have a right to the information they need to make proper decisions and that those who supply health products and/or services have a moral obligation to be truthful, competent, and accountable. NCAHF did not take sides in turf battles but believed in one standard for all. Other than the common bond among those who believe that medical care should be practiced on a scientific basis, NCAHF had no organizational ties to either organized medicine or the pharmaceutical industry nor has it ever received financial support from them. In fact, NCAHF was openly critical of the failure of organized medicine to take a more proactive consumer protection role, and believed that medical discipline needs strengthening. NCAHF was also very critical of drug companies that market worthless, questionable, and unsafe products. (Many dietary supplements, homeopathic products, herbal remedies, and vitamin-mineral formulations, are products of the drug industry.) Misleading vitamin promotions have been repeatedly done by major pharmaceutical companies. NCAHF has exposed such activities, incurring the wrath of vitamin trade groups. The spread of Lisa's books was stopped by libel suits filed against his publishers, but the false charges are occasionally repeated by others.

Later Years. In 1998, NCAHF began doing business as the National Council for Reliable Health Information (NCRHI). This was due to changes in the meaning of "health fraud" encoded in the Kassebaum-Kennedy Act. The Council's mission was unchanged. In anticipation of Professor Jarvis' retirement in 2000, John H Renner, MD, a nationally recognized patient education specialist, was elected President and operations were moved to Independence, Missouri, in the autumn of 1998. Following Dr. Renner's death in September, 2000, NCRHI leadership was assumed by Vice-President William M London, EdD, MPH. Soon afterward the Board voted to discontinue doing business as NCRHI and reverted to using NCAHF exclusively. Operations were moved to Ft. Lee, New Jersey. Dr. London was elected NCAHF President in the Autumn of 2000. In 2001, he was succeeded as president by Robert S. Baratz, DDS, MD, PhD and NCAHF was relocated to Peabody, Massachusetts.

As the Internet evolved, the work of NCAHF became an online activity and NCAHF's printed newsletter ceased publication. In 2002, it became apparent that none of the officers or board members, all of whom were unpaid volunteers, had the time or resources to maintain NCAHF as a membership organization. It became inactive and Dr. Barrett converted its former Web site into an archive that preserves many of its publications. NCAHF's corporate status was formally dissolved in 2011.

This article was revised on March 14, 2016.