Consumer Health Digest #04-52

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 28, 2004

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.

High-tech screening promotions questioned. A study of 60 advertisements and brochures for self-referred CT and MRI screening tests has found that many of them were misleading. [Illes J and others. Advertising, patient decision making, and self-referral for computed tomographic and magnetic resonance imaging. Archives of Internal Medicine 164:2415-2419, 2004] Noting that the marketers emphasized potential benefits but almost never mentioned real risks (such as the ultimate cost of false positive tests), the researchers concluded: "Direct-to-consumer marketing of self-referred imaging services . . . fails to provide prospective consumers with comprehensive balanced information vital to informed autonomous decision making. Professional guidelines and oversight for advertising and promotion of these services are needed." The largest number of ads in the study came from HealthScan America, Inc., an Arizona corporation doing business in California under the name of AmeriScan. About 14 months before the study was published, the San Francisco District Attorney and the Medical Board of California, jointly filed suit against the company and its founder and medical director Craig Bittner, M.D. The suit sought to halt advertising claims that the company's MRI BreastScreen was “the absolute most accurate technology available for the early detection of breast cancer" and had been "proven to find nearly 100% of all breast cancers," and that its success rate had been "repeatedly documented throughout international medical literature." The regulators believed that the ads were intended to scare women away from mammography in order to sell them a $2,000 MRI BreastScreen. [San Francisco District Attorney and the Medical Board of California file suit to stop deceptive advertising regarding breast cancer screening. News release, Oct 23, 2003]. Soon after the suit was filed, the AmeriScan centers were closed.

Phony detox device debunked. British investigator have concluded that the Aqua Detox device, which is claimed to remove toxins and "balance cellular energy" has been promoted with false claims. During treatment sessions, the customer's feet are bathed in a plastic basin for 30 minutes in salt water that is subjected to a low-voltage current. During the process, the water typically turns reddish brown. Operators of the device have claimed that it draws toxins from the body and that the color is due to the toxins entering the water. However, a recent investigation revealed that the color change is the result of precipitation of rust (oxidized iron) created by corrosion of the device's electrodes and that the water would change color whether or not a foot was placed in it. At least 20 such devices are being marketed. [Barrett S. The Aqua Detox scam. Device Watch, Dec 28, 2004]

Acupuncturist facing insurance fraud charges. Boyuan Lin of Larchmont, New York has been charged with 76 felonies after Rockland County police concluded that he had been running "medical mills" that submitted fraudulent bills for auto accident claims. Lin, who operated New York Health and Vitality, had opened and closed several other clinics within the past few years. Some of the patients had legitimate injuries, some exaggerated their injuries, and others had no injuries. The investigation included video surveillance and the use of undercover agents who posed as patients. [Incalcaterra L. Man faces 76 felony charges. The Journal News, Dec 21, 2004]

"Slim Chance" awards issued. The National Council Against Health Fraud's Weight Loss Abuse Task Force has issued its list of the year’s worst diet gimmicks. The "winners" are:

The task force is chaired by nutritionist Frances Berg, whose newest book, Underage & Overweight, includes a 7-point plan for raising healthy-weight children and offers advice to parents who fear their child may be trying to lose weight in dangerous ways. Previous "Slim Chance" Awards are listed on Berg's Healthy Weight Network Web site.

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This page was posted on December 28, 2004.