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.

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:

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]

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This page was revised on May 31 , 2016.