Consumer Health Digest #17-16

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
April 16, 2017

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. Its primary focus is on health, but Professional it includes non-health scams and practical tips.

Canadian survey finds dubious chiropractic claims are widespread. A CBC News analysis of Web sites and Facebook pages of every registered chiropractor in Manitoba found several dozen examples of statements, claims, and social media content at odds with many public health policies or medical research. [Marcoux M and others. Advertising by some Manitoba chiropractors undermines public health, expert says. CBC-TV, March 20, 2017] The problems included (a) anti-vaccination claims, (b) the assertion that chiropractic training is "virtually identical" to that of a medical doctor, and (c) offers of treatment for autism, Tourette's syndrome, Alzheimer's disease, colic, infections and cancer. Other surveys have found similar problems with the Web sites of chiropractors in Australia, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom.

Gallery of chiropractic ads posted. Chirobase now hosts a gallery of chiropractic ads that illustrate how chiropractors in the United States advertised before the development of the Internet. It includes more than 200 newspaper ads, more than 1,100 yellow page display ads, and a few other ads of historical significance. The index also links to questionable claims made on more than 200 chiropractic Web sites and a critique of claims made during the American Chiropractic Association's 1998 Reader's Digest advertising campaign. This campaign, which was promoted as "the BIGGEST campaign in history to market chiropractic," was centered around 8-page advertising inserts placed in two issues of Reader's Digest magazine. It also included radio spots, newspaper ads, promotional materials for chiropractic offices, and reprints of the booklet for use by individual chiropractors. The critique includes copies of the inserts with embedded comments about claims that were misleading, including many that are still common today.

Investigative reporter warns against Alex Jones. Julia Belluz, one of the country's best investigative reporters, is warning that Alex Jones' Infowars is dangerous not only to his listeners but also to society as a whole. [Belluz J. I watched Alex Jones give his viewers health advice. Here's what I learned. Vox, April 6, 2017] Jones's targets include vaccination, fluoridation, and prescription drugs, but Belluz is most concerned about Jones's efforts to shift who people trust. After watching more than six hours of his show, she concluded:

On Infowars, truth is provisional, science means nothing, and you can't trust anyone—especially not your doctor, researchers, or experts of any kind. This is a parallel information universe, with deep suspicions of the establishment and government agencies and a deep appreciation for the populist president, Donald Trump.

As a medical reporter, I've written a lot about shady peddlers of health misinformation; Infowars felt like familiar terrain. Exaggerated claims, cherry-picked studies reported out of context, and the promise of treatments and foods that will either kill or cure are more the rule than the exception in this corner of journalism. 

But Infowars makes Dr. Oz and the Food Babe seem benevolent. The show goes so much further than simply misleading people about their personal health choices and a range of other subjects. Jones and Infowars are part of a political movement aimed at undermining and delegitimizing the institutions that are fundamental to democracy—especially science. They also have connections that run all the way up to the White House. . . .

Infowars frequently calls on Trump to enact policy based on conspiracy theories

Couple sentenced for alleged faith-based neglect. Leah and Douglas Dyer, who were convicted of felony child abuse, have been sentenced to 15 years in prison. [Pohl J. Dyers sentenced to 15 years for felony child abuse. Fort Collins Coloradoan, Feb 16, 2017] The evidence showed that the Dyers failed to provide medical care for their daughter, who began having seizures at the age of three, and that over a four-year period, the child developed brain damage and severe malnutrition. During their trial, the couple's public defenders argued that (a) the Dyers thought that their daughter was possessed by spirits and (b) the health-care industry had failed to ensure their understanding of her condition, leaving them equipped with only their spirituality to treat the child's condition. But the prosecutors countered that the couple saw physicians when they themselves needed medical care.

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This page was posted on April 16, 2017.