Consumer Health Digest #14-08

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 9, 2014

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.

Anti-vaccine messages may cause permanent harm. A study of messages designed to reduce vaccine misrepresentations and increase vaccination rates for the measle-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine has found that pro-vaccine messages do not always work as intended and sometimes have the opposite effect. [Nyhan B. and others. Effective messages in vaccine promotion: A randomized trial. Pediatrics, March 3, 2014] The study involved 1759 parents who have children in their household age 17 or younger. Parents were randomly assigned to receive 1 of 4 interventions: (a) information explaining the lack of evidence that MMR causes autism, (b) textual information about the dangers of the diseases prevented by MMR, (c) images of children who have diseases prevented by the MMR vaccine, or (d) a dramatic narrative about an infant who almost died of measles. None of the interventions appeared to increase parental intent to vaccinate a future child. Refuting claims of an MMR/autism link successfully reduced misperceptions that vaccines cause autism but nonetheless decreased intent to vaccinate among parents who had the least favorable vaccine attitudes. In addition, images of sick children increased expressed belief in a vaccine/autism link and a dramatic narrative about an infant in danger increased self-reported belief in serious vaccine side effects. The authors concluded:

Current public health communications about vaccines may not be effective. For some parents, they may actually increase misperceptions or reduce vaccination intention. Attempts to increase concerns about communicable diseases or correct false claims about vaccines may be especially likely to be counterproductive. More study of pro-vaccine messaging is needed.

Individual counseling during which parents voice their fears may be more effective but can require considerable time. It might also be useful to try to decrease the spread of misinformation through mainstream media channels.

Pair charged with practicing homeopathy without a license. Based on the results of an undercover investigation, the Salt Lake County district attorney has charged two with unlawful and unprofessional conduct for practicing homeopathic medicine without a license. Both worked at a clinic that requires patients to join its "private membership association" in order to receive services. An investigator who consulted one of them for "pressure in the head, shoulder pain, frequent urination, and frequent thirst" reported that he placed two fingers on the investigator's arm, asked questions, then diagnosed "worms, fluxes, bacteria in his body, and 26 kinds of tape worms." and sold $259 in supplements. An investigator who did a similar investigation of the other reported being diagnosed with allergies, parasites, fungal infections, rickets and softening of the bones. Both agents were sold supplement products. One of the pair has no health-related license. The other is licensed as a massage therapist, but supposedly exceeded the legal scope of her practice. Update: The case was dismissed, and the court ordered the relevant records to be expunged. The reason for the dismissal is not apparent.

Psychic swindler gets 10-year prison sentence. Rose Marks, who with family members operated a fortune-telling business in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and New York City, has been sentenced to just over 10 years in federal prison for defrauding clients out of more than $17.8 million. Marks has been jailed since September when a jury found her guilty of 14 charges after a month-long trial. Her victims included best-selling romance novelist Jude Deveraux, who was a client since 1991. The indictment, which included charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering, stated:

The other family members all pleaded guilty to lesser charges and have either been sentenced or will soon be sentenced. The Miami Sun-Sentinel has published highlights of the trial, including how the judge said that although the family's crimes were despicable, he wondered why anyone would fall for the absurd promises and predictions they made. Prosecutors stated that most victims were particularly vulnerable because they were coping with bereavement, bad relationships, personal or family illness, and other challenges, but the judge pointed out that many were well-educated. [McMahon P. 'Psychic' who fleeced millions from clients sentenced to 10 years in prison. Sun Sentinel, March 3, 2014]

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This page was revised on June 7, 2017.