Consumer Health Digest #01-36

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 3, 2001

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. It summarizes scientific reports; legislative developments; enforcement actions; news reports; Web site evaluations; recommended and nonrecommended books; and other information relevant to consumer protection and consumer decision-making.

Astrology school accredited. The Astrological Institute in Scottsdale, Arizona, has been accredited by the federally recognized Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, which means that its students can become eligible for federal grants and loans. As with chiropractic, acupuncture and naturopathy schools, such decisions are not based upon the scientific validity of what is taught but on such factors as record-keeping, physical assets, financial status, makeup of the governing body, catalog characteristics, nondiscrimination policy, and self-evaluation system. The Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP) promptly labeled the recognition as "a blow to the integrity of higher education." Perhaps the time has come for the U.S. Department of Education to attempt to protect our society from pseudoscientific training.

Bill introduced to make dietary supplements tax-deductible. Senators Orrin Hatch (R-UT) and Tom Harkin (D-IA) have introduced the Dietary Supplement Tax Fairness Act of 2001 (s. 1330), which would provide that amounts paid for foods for special dietary use, dietary supplements, or medical foods shall be treated as medical expenses for income tax purposes when offered as part of an insurance plan. (At present, only prescription drugs can be covered.) The introduction to the bill states that it is intended to enable these products to be prescribed for "children with inborn errors of metabolism, metabolic disorders, and autism, and all individuals with diabetes, autoimmune disorders, and chronic inflammatory conditions." The Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, spearheaded by Hatch and Harkin, defined dietary supplements to include "vitamins; minerals; herbs or other botanicals; amino acids; other dietary substances to supplement the diet by increasing dietary intake; and any concentrate, metabolite, constituent, extract, or combination of any such ingredients." Although some conditions exist where special nutritional products are medically appropriate, the bill's loose wording may encourage insurance coverage of many quack methods.

Studies support acupuncture safety. Members of the British Acupuncture Council who participated in two prospective studies have reported low complication rates and no serious complications among patients who underwent a total of more than 66,000 treatments. An accompany editorial suggests that in competent hands, the likelihood of complications is small. Since outcome data are not available, the studies cannot compare the balance of risks vs benefit. Nor do the studies take into account the likelihood of misdiagnosis (and failure to seek appropriate medical care) by practitioners who use traditional Chinese methods. The full-text articles are available on the British Medical Journal site:

High use of nonprescription weight-loss products. The Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) has found that about 7% of 14,679 noninstitutionalized adults 18 years or older in Florida, Iowa, Michigan, West Virginia, and Wisconsin reported use of at least one nonprescription weight-loss product in 1996 to 1998. Overall use was 28% among obese young women and 7.9% of normal weight women. The researchers estimated that during the 3-year study period, approximately 17.2 million Americans used a nonprescription weight-loss products, including 5 million who used phenylpropanolamine (PPA), and 2.5 million who used an ephedrine-containing product. [Blanck HM and others. Use of nonprescription weight loss products: Results from a multistate survey. JAMA 286:930-935, 2001]

Teachers barred from recommending psychiatric drugs. Connecticut has enacted a bill intended to limit what teachers can advise parents to do about children they believe have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Public law 01-124, which passed unanimously, permits recommendations that a child be professionally evaluated but prohibits advice that any psychiatric drug might help. The bill also states that parental refusal to administer or consent to the administration of any psychotropic drug shall not constitute grounds for taking a child into custody unless the refusal causes the child to be neglected or abused as defined by other state laws. [Hausman K. Connecticut bars teachers from recommending psychiatric drugs. Psychiatric News 36(16:2,29, 2001]

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This page was posted on September 3, 2001.