Consumer Health Digest #13-47

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
December 12, 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.

Fluoridation statistics updated. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released the latest fluoridation statistics, which show that in 2012, 210 million people (74.6% of the U.S. population on community water systems) had access to optimally fluoridated water. This is about 15 million more people than in 2008. The jurisdictions with the highest percentage of recipients are the District of Columbia (100%), Kentucky (99.9%), Minnesota (99.8%), Illinois (98.5%), and Maryland (97.2%). The lowest are Hawaii (10.8%), New Jersey (14.6%), and Oregon (22.6%).

Sylvia Browne dies. Sylvia Browne, who predicted that she herself would live to age 88, died in November at the age of 77. Throughout her career as a "psychic," Browne claimed to diagnose health problems, communicate with the dead, sense what happened to missing persons, and even to have proven there is an afterlife. Critics have pointed out that (a) Browne took money—under false pretenses—from people who were emotionally vulnerable, (b) by inventing messages from or about lost loved ones, she could tarnish the true memories of these people, and (c) her medical diagnoses could lead people who trusted her to pursue incorrect diagnoses, waste money ruling them out, and/or ignore the advice of their own medical professionals. Browne's popularity was due in large part to her frequent appearances on the Montel Williams TV show, where she made predictions, answered questions about people's dead relatives, diagnosed health problems, and gave treatment advice to callers. Skeptics who tracked and evaluated her predictions have found that her accuracy rate was extremely poor. In one study that recently came to light, 31 fourth-grade students were asked to predict the outcome of eleven things that Browne has predicted for 2005. Browne was correct in only 3 of the 11 cases (27%), which was about half of what would be expected by pure guessing. One student made 8 correct predictions, five got 7 correct, nine got 6 correct, six got 5 correct, seven got 4 correct, two got 3 correct, and one got 2 correct. (In other words, 28 out of 31 did better than Browne, two did the same, and only one did worse.) Quackwatch has published a comprehensive report on Browne's activities.

FDA warns against nipple aspirate test. The FDA has issued a "Consumer Update" to warn that a nipple aspirate test is not a replacement for mammography, other breast imaging tests, or breast biopsy, and should not be used by itself to screen for or diagnose breast cancer. The device is a type of pump used to collect fluid from a woman's breast that is examined for the presence of abnormal cells. Some manufacturers have claimed that the test can detect precancerous abnormalities and diagnose breast cancer before mammography with just a sample of a few cells. However, there is no scientific evidence that the test by itself is an effective screening tool. In February 2013, the FDA ordered Atossa Genetics, Inc. to correct violations in the marketing of its breast aspirate test system. In October 2013, Atossa initiated a voluntary recall to remove it from the marketplace.

Chiropractor jailed for conning patients. Chiropractor Brandon Lee Babcock has been convicted of six third-degree felony counts of exploiting a vulnerable adult and sentenced to six months in prison. The Salt Lake Tribune, which has followed his activities closely for several years, has noted:

In 2008, the Utah Department of Occupational and Professional Licensing (DOPL) issued a "non-disciplinary cease-and-desist order" after finding that Babcock was advertising treatment for depression, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, learning problems, attention deficit disorder, allergies, hormone replacement relief, sleep problems and memory loss, despite not being licensed to treat these conditions. In April 2012, the DOPL suspended Babcock's chiropractic license by emergency order. The Salt Lake Tribune has noted, however, that he continued to lead seminars in which he touted his nutritional program to reverse Type II diabetes. Although students at chiropractic colleges have little or no opportunity to manage diabetic patients, hundreds of chiropractors throughout the United States are offering the same or similar programs.

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This page was posted on December 15, 2013.