Consumer Health Digest #08-40

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 30, 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.

Book blasts anti-vaccination scaremongers. Autism's False Prophets exposes the opportunism of lawyers, journalists, celebrities, practitioners, politicians, and miscellaneous cranks who are promoting the myth that vaccines cause autism. Written by Paul A. Offit, M.D., co-developer of the rotavirus vaccine, the book chronicles the irresponsible behavior of Andrew Wakefield, M.D., Mark Geier, M.D., Geier's son David, Congressman Dan Burton, author David Kirby, former Playboy bunny Jenny McCarthy, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., and other misguided zealots and reveals how lawyers and "experts" involved in anti-vaccine lit∫igation have collected large amounts of government money. Offit also castigates Oprah Winfrey, Larry King, "Good Morning America," and other major news outlets for giving McCarthy widespread and undeserved exposure.

In a parallel development, British Guardian columnist Ben Goldacre, M.D., has warned that "the incredibly poor quality of British journalism coverage of health and science issues is a serious public health issue. In a soon-to-be-published interview, Goldacre noted that ten years of widespread coverage of Dr. Wakefield's false claims that MMR shots cause autism has been accompanied by a 20% drop in vaccination rates. [Ponsford D. Bad Science columnist's warning: 'Poor quality of British journalism is a serious public health issue.' Press Gazette, Oct 1, 2008]

Another major glucosamine trial is negative. The Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial (GAIT), which followed about 570 patients with osteoarthritis of the knee for two years, has found that none of the treatment groups showed a significant benefit (slowing of the narrowing of the joint space). [Sawitzke AD and others. The effect of glucosamine and/or chondroitin sulfate on the progression of knee osteoarthritis: A report from the Glucosamine/chondroitin Arthritis Intervention Trial. Arthritis & Rheumatism 58:3183-3191, 2008] In 2006, the GAIT researchers reported that glucosamine and chondroitin failed reduce osteoarthritis knee pain more effectively than a placebo and that patients who received a standard arthritis drug did about 17% better than the placebo group. [Clegg DO and others. Glucosamine, chondroitin sulfate, and the two in combination for painful knee osteoarthritis. New England Journal of Medicine 354:795-808, 2006] Although many studies have claimed positive results, the best-designed ones are negative, which usually means that negative evidence will eventually prevail. [Barrett S. Glucosamine for arthritis: Benefit is unlikely. Quackwatch, Sept 30, 2008]

ERSP reports on challenged infomercial claims. The National Advertising Review Council has posted reports on infomercial claims investigated by the Electronic Retailing Self-Regulation Program. More than 100 reports related to health and beauty claims are now downloadable. The reports provide a useful summary of "core claims" that the ERSP considered questionable. In most cases where claims were evaluated, at least some were modified or withdrawn. However, many of the challenged claims were not analyzed because the marketer stated that the infomercial would no longer be used, which was not always true. Infomercials whose marketers would not participate in the evaluation process were referred to the Federal Trade Commission for action. Casewatch will eventually post a detailed analysis of the ERSP reports.

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This page was posted on October 1, 2008.