Consumer Health Digest #10-07

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
February 18, 2010

Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., with help from William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H. 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.

"Psychic" blasted. A detailed three-year study of alleged psychic Sylvia Browne's predictions about missing persons and murder cases has found that despite her repeated claims to be more than 85% correct, "Browne has not even been mostly correct in a single case." The study's authors collected Browne's televised statements about 115 cases and compared them with newspaper reports that are believed to be factual. They found that in 25 cases where the actual outcome is known, she was dead wrong in every one; and in the rest, where the final outcome is unknown, her predictions could not be substantiated. The study indicates that the media outlets that repeatedly promote Browne's work have no visible concern about whether she is untrustworthy or harms people. [Shafer R, Jadwiszczok A. Psychic defective: Sylvia Browne's history of failure. Skeptical Inquirer 34(2):38-42, 2010]

Skeptical Inquirer archive available. The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry has published a searchable archive containing all issues of its flagship magazine from 1976 through 2005. Available in CD-ROM or DVD format, it contains hundreds of reports on paranormal, fringe-science, and quack beliefs and practices. The cost is $150 postpaid. Printed copies of the issues from 2006 onward are available for $5 each plus postage.

Jillian Michaels facing class-action suit. Jillian Michaels is being sued for falsely advertising that her "Jillian Michaels Maximum Strength Calorie Control" product will provide "automatic" weight loss if taken before meals. Michaels is one of the stars of NBC-TV's reality show, "The Biggest Loser," which tracks how morbidly obese people lose weight under her guidance. Calorie Control is a proprietary blend of herbal powders and extracts plus a few other ingredients. Three of the extracts provide caffeine. Plaintiff Christie Christensen maintains that although she took the product as directed, her appetite did not decrease, her caloric intake was not automatically restricted, and she did not lose any weight. She is seeking class-action status that includes all people in California who bought the product within the four years before the suit was filed. The suit also names Thinlife International and Basic Research LLC, which market her products. Basic Research has an extensive history of legal and regulatory difficulty. In 2006, the FTC ordered it to pay $3 million on behalf of six companies and three principals. The Commission’s order settled FTC charges that their deceptive weight-loss claims violated federal law. The violations included claims that Akävar 20/50 lets users “eat all you want and still lose weight.” In 2009, the FTC charged Basic Research with continuing to make false claims for Akävar and another product. The company has also been a plaintiff or defendant in more than 40 other suits filed in federal court between 2004 and 2009. Diet Scam Watch has posted a detailed report with links to the relevant documents.

Former Mexican clinic operators get prison time. William R. Fry and Geronimo Rubio, M.D. have been sentenced to federal prison for health care fraud and federal income tax felonies for which both pled guilty in 2007. Fry will serve 14 months, Rubio 12 months, both to be followed by three years of supervised release. For their health care fraud convictions, Fry and Rubio must pay $63,237 in restitution to insurance providers. Fry was also ordered to pay the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) $314,159 in back taxes plus interest and penalties for tax years 1997 through 2003. Dr. Rubio was ordered to pay the IRS $356,311 in back taxes plus interest and penalties for tax years 1998 through 2003. Court records indicate that the pair jointly owned and controlled the American Metabolic Institute (AMI) in Bonita, California and operated a clinic called Hospital San Martin, in Tijuana, Mexico. [Two sentenced in federal income tax felonies. USDOJ news release, Feb 9, 2010] AMI offered lymphatic massage, laetrile, colonics, "bioelectrical medicine," and a long list of other dubious treatments that its Web site characterized as "the most advanced alternative health care system for cancer and other degenerative diseases." In their guilty pleas, the Fry and Rubio admitted that they submitted false bills to American insurance companies and substantially under-reported their income on their individual federal income tax returns.

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This page was revised on February 19, 2010.