Consumer Health Digest #07-08

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 20, 2007

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.

Gillian McKeith restricted. Pop-nutritionist Gillian McKeith has informally resolved a complaint to the British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) by pledging to stop advertising herself with the title "doctor" based on correspondence courses from the American College of Holistic Nutrition, a non-accredited school that is now called Clayton College of Natural Health (CCNH). The change was triggered by a pending ASA ruling that McKeith's use of the term "Dr." was likely to mislead and breached ASA's advertising practice code. [Goldacre B. A menace to science. Guardian Unlimited, Feb 12, 2007] ASA has jurisdiction over claims in magazine and newspaper ads, radio and TV commercials, TV shopping channels, billboards, leaflets, brochures; cinema commercials, direct mail, door drops and circulars, CD ROMs, DVD and video, faxes, Internet banner and pop-up ads, commercial e-mail, and SMS text message ads. McKeith's Web sites still call her "Dr. McKeith," but claims on a company’s own sites are outside of ASA's purview. Quackwatch has a detailed critique of CCNH.

"Amazing" weight-loss program isn't. The Oxygen Network is airing a deceptive 30-minute infomercial for Amaze Rx, a meal-replacement drink that is claimed to produce weight loss of up to a pound a day. The program features bariatric surgeon Richard Alan Carter, D.O., of Richardson, Texas and interviews and before-and-after photos of users who lost large amounts of weight. The program is misleading, however, because the users also had lapband surgery, a procedure in which appetite is decreased by constricting the upper part of the stomach with an elastic band that limits the amount of food it can hold. Although this is mentioned near the beginning of the infomercial, most segments do not make it clear that the testimonial-givers were lapband recipients, which means that viewers who do not see the entire program may not realize this. Meal-replacement drinks can help people lose weight, but the amount involved is likely to be small and far less than promised for Amaze Rx. Proving that Amaze Rx has practical use would require a study of at least a year—and ideally several years—showing that people who had not undergone lapband surgery lost considerable weight and kept it off. No such study has been done. Infomercial Watch has a detailed report on the infomercial.

Food intolerance tests debunked. A "BBC Watchdog" reporter who underwent five "food intolerance" tests got wildly contradictory results:

A dietitian who commented on the results said (a) there is no scientific research to support Vega Testing, (b) hair analysis testing hasn't been proved to work with food intolerance and (c) some scientific work has been done on the method used by York Test, but further research is needed to see whether the test can actually diagnose food intolerance. [Food intolerance tests: Do food intolerance tests work? Watchdog investigates. BBC Consumer Web site, Jan 9, 2007] The proper way to investigate food intolerance is a careful history followed by dietary strategies to determine whether suspected foods are problematic. [Barrett S. Allergies: Dubious diagnosis and treatment. Quackwatch Feb 19, 2007]

GAO calls for greater direct-to-consumer ad oversight. The Government Accountability Office wants the FDA to regulate direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads more efficiently. The report noted that in recent years, the number of warning letters per year has fallen and the average time taken to issue them has increased greatly. From 1997 through 2001, it took only 2 weeks from the time letters were drafted to the time they were issued. From 2002 through 2005, it took 4 months. In 2004 and 2005, the warning letters were issued an average of 8 months after the ads were first disseminated, by which time about half of them had been discontinued. [Prescription drugs: Improvements needed in FDA's oversight of direct-to-consumer advertising. GAO-07-54, Nov 2006]

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This page was posted on February 20, 2007.