Consumer Health Digest #10-37

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
September 16, 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.

UK ad regulators will expand scope. The British Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has announced that it will begin adjudicating complaints about Internet-based advertising next year. [Landmark agreement extends ASA's digital remit. ASA news release, Sept 1, 2010] Its current scope includes ads in nearly all other media, but as of March 1, 2011, the rules in the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising, Sales Promotion and Direct Marketing (the CAP Code) will apply to marketing communications online. When complaints are received, the ASA may seek an informal resolution or open a formal investigation. If an advertising breach is considered minor, an informal resolution will be sought and nothing further will be done if the advertiser agrees to withdraw the ad. If a breach is considered potentially more serious, an investigation will be conducted, substantiation will be sought, an adjudication will be held, and the decision will be published on the ASA Web site. If an advertiser refuses to stop an ad that the ASA considers misleading, it can refer the case to the Office for Fair Trading for enforcement. However, this is rarely needed because nearly all advertisers comply with ASA decisions. In line with the new policy, the ASA has indicated that if advertisers are noncompliant, it may advertise their noncompliance online and urge search engine companies to remove sponsored links to noncompliant sites. A few months ago, the ASA Web site began publishing summaries of both new and archived decisions, which enables viewers to investigate efficiently. It also issues a weekly e-mail notice that links to new adjudications. Although ASA considers itself a self-regulatory agency, its combination of rapid investigation, publication, low tolerance for deception, and enforcement threat makes the ASA a very potent force, far more so than the Better Business Bureau's National Advertising Division in the United States.

ASA nixes craniosacral therapy claims. The Advertising Standards Authority has concluded that a Craniosacral Therapy Association (CTA) leaflet was misleading because it contained claims that could not be substantiated. The claims included:

During the investigation, CTA asserted that the efficacy of its methods could be determined by assessing whether patients felt or got better, but the ASA determined that "a body of robust scientific evidence, such as clinical trials" would be required. The ASA also noted that even if craniosacral therapy could relieve symptoms, the ad could discourage readers from seeking essential treatment for serious medical conditions from a qualified medical practitioner. [ASA Adjudication on Craniosacral Therapy Association, Sept 8, 2010] Claims like those in the leaflet have also been published on CTA's Web site, which is currently "under reconstruction."

Craniosacral therapy (also called cranial therapy) is based on the notion that a rhythm exists in the flow of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord and that diseases can be diagnosed by detecting aberrations in this rhythm and corrected by manipulating or lightly touching the skull. However, there is no logical reason why pressing the skull should influence the course of ailments throughout the body.

Hormone Foundation attacks two "fad" diagnoses. The Hormone Foundation has issued two fact sheets intended to counter two inappropriate diagnoses. One attacks "adrenal fatigue," a condition allegedly caused by long-term mental or physical stress. The other debunks the concept of "Wilson's temperature syndrome," an alleged thyroid disorder invented by a Florida physician who stopped practicing after he was disciplined by his state board. Both of these alleged diagnoses are claimed to cause dozens of common symptoms for which their advocates provide hormones and/or dietary supplements. The Hormone Foundation is the public education affiliate of The Endocrine Society, the largest international group of professionals that deal with hormone-related problems.

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This page was revised on September 18, 2010.