Consumer Health Digest #13-16

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 18, 2013

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.

Weight-loss frauds top FTC survey. A major FTC survey conducted in 2011 has found that consumers were victimized by fraudulent weight-loss products more than by any of the other marketing frauds covered by the survey. [Consumer Fraud in the United States, 2011: The Third FTC Survey. April 2013] The products included nonprescription drugs, dietary supplements, skin patches, creams, wraps, and earrings. They were considered fraudulent if (a) they were promoted as enabling users to easily lose a substantial amount of weight or to lose weight without diet or exercise and (b) users lost a little of the weight anticipated or lost no weight. The study estimated that 5.1 million persons age 18 or older (2.1% of U.S. adults) bought and used such products However, if purchasers who didn't use the products were added, the percentage was 4.1%.

The survey also examined correlations between education, economic status, and risk-taking propensity and the extent of victimization. Overall, the study found that 10.8% of U.S. adults—25.6 million people—reported awareness of at least one incident of victimization. The other areas noted in the report included prize promotions, buyers' clubs, work-at-home programs, credit repair, debt relief, credit card insurance, business opportunities, mortgage relief, advance-fee loans, pyramid schemes, government job offers, counterfeit checks, and grants.

Fraudulent marketing in our society cannot be reduced unless scams are made less lucrative. Dr. Stephen Barrett believes that the following measures are needed:

Another chelationist ordered to stop using provoked testing. The Oregon Medical Board has reprimanded Christopher Hatlestad, M.D. and ordered him to stop administering chelation therapy. Hatlestad practices at the Center for Environmental Medicine in Portland, Oregon. The stipulated order states that he was charged with administering chelation therapy to five patients after they were improperly diagnosed with lead and/or mercury toxicity. In each case, the diagnosis was based on a "challenge test" in which the patient's urine levels were measured after a chelating agent was administered. The board noted that challenge testing (also called provoked testing) does not provide a legitimate basis for diagnosing heavy metal toxicity and has been denounced by the American College of Medical Toxicology. The stipulated order reprimanded Hatlestad, placed him on probation for five years, and prohibits him from (a) using or approving challenge testing, (b) treating or authorizing treatment for heavy metals toxicity, or administering or authorizing any form of chelation therapy. David J. Ogle, M.D., who began serving as the Center for Environmental Medicine's medical director in 2002, had his license revoked in 2010. Quackwatch has a comprehensive article about provoked testing.

New "open access" journals may jeopardize medical information system. The New York Times has reported problems associated with "open access" journals that operate unethically and have low editorial standards. [Kolata G. Scientific articles accepted (Personal checks, too). The New York Times, April 7, 2013] Open-access journals publish the full text of articles on their sites, where they can be accessed free of charge. Researchers have expressed alarm that some journals of this type will print seemingly anything for a fee. The article also noted:

Study finds "CAM" cancer treatments harmful. Researchers have found that patients considered terminal who used "complementary and alternative" cancer treatments lived no longer and had a lower health-related quality of life than similar patients who did not. The study followed 481 patients at university hospitals and the National Cancer Center in Korea and found that 202 (42%) used at least one method that could be classified as "CAM." The CAM group showed decreased cognitive functioning, more fatigue, and clinically worse changes in quality-of-life ratings. [Yun YH and others. Effect of complementary and alternative medicine on the survival and health-related quality of life among terminally ill cancer patients: a prospective cohort study. Annals of Oncology 24:489-494, 2013]

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This page was posted on April 20, 2013.