Consumer Health Digest #16-20
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 29, 2016
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.
FTC jolts "brain training" marketers. During the past two years, three marketers of questionable "brain training" programs have settled FTC charges by agreeing to discontinue various claims.
- The developers and marketers of LearningRx "brain training" agreed to stop claiming that their programs were clinically proven to permanently improve serious health conditions like ADHD, autism, dementia, Alzheimer's disease, strokes, and concussions and that the training substantially improved school grades, college admission test scores, career earnings, and job and athletic performance. They also claimed that their program was 10 times more cost-effective than tutoring. [Marketers of one-on-one 'brain training' programs settle FTC charges that claims about ability to treat severe cognitive impairments are unsupported. FTC press release, May 18, 2016]
- Earlier this year, marketers of the Lumosity program settled charges that they deceived consumers with unfounded claims that their games can help users perform better at work and in school, and reduce or delay cognitive impairment associated with age and other serious health conditions. As part of the settlement, Lumos Labs, agreed to pay $2 million in redress, notify subscribers of the FTC action, and provide an easy way to cancel their auto-renewal to avoid future billing. [Lumosity to pay $2 million to settle FTC deceptive advertising charges for its "brain training" program. FTC news release, Jan 5, 2016]
- Last year, Focus Education and its officers agreed to stop making unsubstantiated claims that their computer game, Jungle Rangers, permanently improves children's focus, memory, attention, behavior, and school performance, including for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). [Makers of Jungle Rangers computer game for kids settle FTC charges that they deceived consumers with baseless "brain training" claims. FTC news release, Jan 20, 2015]
Last year, the FTC also settled charges against the marketers of Procera AVH, a dietary asupplement claimed to have been clinically proven to improve memory, mood, and other cognitive functions. [Supplement marketers will relinquish $1.4 million to settle FTC deceptive advertising charges: Ads claimed Procera AVH would restore 10 to 15 years of memory loss. FTC news release, July 8, 2015]
Slate blasts faith-based treatment facility. Slate has published a detailed investigative report that features interviews of women treated at a facility operated by Mercy Ministries. The article states that (a) the company does not require that its counselors be licensed, (b) its counselors are not permitted to provide psychotherapy, and (c) many former patients report that staff members shouted at demons to flee their body. [Miller M. The Mercy Girls: These young women enrolled in an influential Christian counseling center for help. That's not what they found. Slate, April 24, 2016] In 2008, the Sydney Morning Herald published a similar report. [Pollard R. They sought help, but got exorcism and the Bible. Sydney Morning Herald, March 17, 2008] The Australian facilities were shut down in 2009. [Pollard P. Mercy Ministries home to close. Sydney Morning Herald, Oct 29, 2009] Shortly afterward, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announced:
- It had obtained undertakings from seven former directors of Mercy Ministries Incorporated and/or Mercy Ministries Limited related to misrepresentations by those entities. The undertakings included an apology and payment of AU$1,050 to each of the former residents affected by the conduct.
- Between January 2005 and June 2008, Mercy Ministries misrepresented in brochures and on its website that its services were provided for free, but most residents were required to assign their government payments from Centrelink to Mercy Ministries for the duration of their stay.
- Mercy had misrepresented that it offered professional support from psychologists, dieticians, general practitioners, social workers and counselors, although it did not employ this range of professionals. [Undertakings remedy Mercy Ministries misleading conduct. ACCC prress release, Dec 16, 2009]
Another critical report was published in 2012. [Kerr L. The dark side of Mercy Ministries. Rewire, Feb 21, 2012]
Bill seeks to legalize MLM pyramid schemes. H.R. 5230, deceptively titled the "Anti-Pyramid Promotional Scheme Act of 2016," appears to be crafted to weaken government protection against multilevel marketing companies, such as Herbalife, that emphasize recruiting rather than retail sales. The bill's proponents claim that it will provide greater clarity to consumers and companies as to what is and what is not a pyramid scheme. Experts on pyramid schemes, however, believe that the wording is vague and tricky and will have the opposite effect. [Vander Nat P. Why this anti-pyramid scheme bill is outrageously wrong for consumers. Truth in Advertising Web site, May 23, 2016]
This page was revised on May 31 , 2016.