Consumer Health Digest #08-02

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 8, 2008

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.

"Kimkins" diet fraud unmasked. Eleven former members of the Kimkins Diet Web site are suing Kimkins founder Heidi "Kimmer" Diaz for false advertising, fraud, unjust enrichment, and negligent misrepresentation. The complaint alleges that (a) Heidi Diaz falsely claimed to have lost 198 pounds in one year, but in fact remains morbidly obese, (b) members' lifetime memberships were unjustly terminated, (c) Ms. Diaz made unjustified claims that the diet is safe, (d) members using the diet plan suffered medical complications that included hair loss, heart palpitations, irritability, and menstrual irregularities, and (e) Diaz's Web site displayed phony "success" stories that used photographs she obtained from Russian and Ukrainian sites with ads from women who wanted to meet prospective husbands. The plaintiffs' attorneys are seeking certification of the suit as a class action. Last June, Diaz attracted national attention and collected more than $1 million through PayPal after the supermarket tabloid Woman's World published her claims with before-and-after pictures purporting to show how her appearance had changed. However, the "after" picture was not Diaz but had been downloaded from a Russian site. KTLA-TV has broadcast segments of a deposition in which Diaz admits to lying. Her Web site contains a "confession" in which she rationalizes what she did but maintains that her program is effective.

Evidence keeps mounting against phony autism-thimerosal link. New data showing that the number of diagnosed cases of autism spectrum disorder has kept rising in California provide more evidence that thimerosal is not a cause. [Schechter R, Grether JK. Continuing increases is autism reported to California's Developmental Services System: Mercury in retrograde. Archives of General Psychiatry 65:19-24, 2008] Quackery promoters claim that the thimerosal in vaccines is a major cause of autism. A 2004 Institute of Medicine report noted the lack of data supporting this belief, but recommended that trends in autism diagnoses be observed as exposure to thimerosal decreased. Thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative, was eliminated from most vaccines by 2001. By now, if it were a cause, the incidence rates should have dropped. The California report was accompanied by an editorial that concluded:

Parents of autistic children should be reassured that autism in their child did not occur through immunizations. Their autistic children, and their siblings, should be normally vaccinated, and as there is no evidence of mercury poisoning in autism, they should avoid ineffective and dangerous “treatments” such as chelation therapy for their children. [Fombonne E. Thimerosal disappears but autism remains. Arch Gen Psychiatry 65:15-16, 2008]

AmeriSciences facing four lawsuits. Optometrist Edward J. Furey, of Roswell, Georgia is suing AmeriSciences and three of its officers for failing to give refunds. The company, headquartered in Houston, Texas, sells dietary supplements through a multilevel network of distributors. Furey's suit accuses the defendants of failing to refund more than $150,000 for products he purchased and also for failing to properly disclose his cancellation rights as required by Georgia law. Furey's attorney, Henry A. Turner of Decatur, Georgia represents three other former distributors with similar cases. The cases must be brought individually because Georgia laws do not permit MLM-related class action suits. MLM participants are often encouraged to stock up on products in order to get higher bonuses or achieve leadership status quickly. However, this strategy can lead to large losses if the products are not sold and no refund is given.

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