Consumer Health Digest #18-09
Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
March 4, 2018
Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by William M. London, Ed.D., M.P.H., with help from Stephen Barrett, M.D. 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 occasionally it includes non-health scams and practical tips.
Stem cell treatment advertising by "CAM" practitioners analyzed. An investigation of 368 Web sites found through Google with search terms combining stem cell with various buzzwords and practitioner names associated with "complementary and alternative medicine" has revealed:
- 243 sites marketed stem cell therapies and 116 marketed other interventions where stem cells were mentioned in the description of the treatment or its effects. The other interventions included platelet-rich plasma injections (88), prolotherapy (19) and others (9).
- The cells used for transplantation were said to be derived from adipose (fatty) tissue (112 sites), bone marrow (100 sites), blood (28 sites), umbilical cord (26 sites), and other sources [e.g., placenta, amniotic sac, amniotic fluid, embryonic stem cells] (35 sites).
- 20 sites advertised plant cell-based treatments and products (e.g., skin creams).
- The most common advertised treatment targets were: bone, joint, and muscle pain/injury (182 sites); diseases or maladies (82 sites); cosmetic concerns (52 sites); non-cosmetic aging (44 sites); and sexual enhancement (18 sites).
- 80% of the sites were for clinics in the USA; the rest were located in 17 other countries.
- The practitioner types mentioned on the 368 sites included medical doctors (161), naturopaths (63), chiropractors (61), acupuncturists (36), midwives (33), homeopaths (27) and massage therapists (13). Some sites mentioned more than one and some sites listed none.
- Hyperbolic language was found on 32% of the sites.
- Only 31% of the sites mentioned the regulatory status of the intervention, and only 33% noted that the therapy was unproven.
- Only 19% of the sites stated there was limited evidence of efficacy of the intervention and 13% said there was evidence of inefficacy.
- Only 25% of the sites mentioned general risks of the interventions.
The investigators concluded:
Many clinics seem to be engaging in scienceploitation, which can seriously obfuscate public discourse, mislead the public and make it difficult to discern real science from marketing claims that merely reference scientific sounding terminology. The marketing of unproven stem cell therapies has the potential to harm patients and to harm the reputation of stem cell science. It is incumbent on regulators and policymakers to take a proactive approach to managing the risks associated with the growing private market for stem cell-related interventions, and addressing misleading marketing practices is an important part of this strategy.
[Murdoch B and others. Exploiting science? A systematic analysis of complementary and alternative medicine clinic websites' marketing of stem cell therapies. BMJ Open 8(2), March 2, 2018]
Ad agency barred from making deceptive weight-loss marketing pitches. Minneapolis-based Marketing Architects, Inc. (MAI) has agreed to pay $2 million to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the State of Maine Attorney General's Office to settle the regulators' joint complaint that the advertising firm created and disseminated radio ads with allegedly false or unsubstantiated weight-loss claims and deceptive risk-free offers for AF Plus and Final Trim, which were marketed by its client, Direct Alternatives. The proposed stipulated order for permanent injunction bans MAI from:
- making any of seven "Gut Check" weight-loss claims that the FTC has publicly advised are always false with respect to any dietary supplement, over-the-counter drug, or any product rubbed into or worn on the skin
- making four other weight-loss claims without proper substantiation
- misrepresenting the experience of consumers giving testimonials
- misrepresenting paid commercial advertising as independent programming
- misrepresenting other facts material to the sale of a product related to return and cancellation policies, "free trials," and auto-billing subscriptions [Advertising firm barred from assisting in the marketing and sale of weight-loss supplements deceptively pitched to consumers. FTC News Release, Feb 25, 2018]
The FTC Act says that advertising agencies have a duty to make an independent check on the information used to substantiate ad claims. They may not rely on an advertiser's assurance that the claims are substantiated. In determining whether an ad agency should be held liable, the FTC looks at (a) the extent of the agency's participation in the preparation of the challenged ad and (b) whether the agency knew or should have known that the ad included false or deceptive claims. [Advertising FAQ's: A guide for small business. FTC Web site, April 2001]
Basis for six-month intervals for dental visits explored. Grant Ritchey, DDS examined the historic and scientific literature for recommending dental examination and prophylaxis literature every six months and noted that:
- Insurance companies began to cover dental services in the 1970s and soon learned that covering preventive care lowered their costs.
- It isn't clear why they began paying for two cleanings per year, but the coverage interval may have been influenced by an advertising campaign for Pepsodent toothpaste.
- Scientific evidence is lacking to support recommendations for dental visits every six-months.
- Some patients clearly need more frequent visits; others can manage with less frequent visits.
- Biological plausibility and common sense are his rationales for recommending six-month recall visits for most of his patients.
[Ritchey, G. The Six Month Dental Recall—Science or Legend? Science-Based Medicine. Feb 23, 2018]
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