Consumer Health Digest #20-20

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
May 24, 2020


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.


Chiropractic claims about COVID-19 immunity challenged. The World Federation of Chiropractic and 150 chiropractic researchers from eleven countries have attacked claims that chiropractic procedures can protect against COVID-19.  This month, Dr. Stephen Barrett investigated the prevalence of such claims by searching the Web for chiropractic sites that contained the words COVID-19, coronavirus, adjustment, adjusted, immune, immunity, and/or subluxation. The search yielded pages from 126 clinics offering services from a total of 260 chiropractors plus a franchise chain that represented 575 clinics, most of which had between 2 and 6 chiropractors on their staff. He found claims that spinal adjustments can: (a) boost, enhance, or confer immunity, or (b) benefit patients with infectious diseases, especially coronavirus infections. Examples include:

Source: Barrett S. Chiropractors sparring over immune boosting claims. Chirobase. May 20, 2020.


"Super-spreaders" of COVID-19 misinformation identified. NewsGuard, an organization staffed by journalists and editors who review and rate news and information Web sites based on nine journalistic criteria, has identified these "super-spreaders" of COVID-19 misinformation:

NewsGuard's Coronavirus Misinformation Tracking Center has identified 218 sites that include materially false coronavirus information. The organization has also debunked common COVID-19 myths.[Gregory J. McDonald K. Trail of deceit: the 13 most popular COVID-19 myths and how they emerged. NewsGuard, April 28, 2020]


Compounded pain creams scrutinized. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reviewed the scientific evidence regarding the safety and effectiveness of 20 active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) found in compounded topical pain creams and concluded:

[National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. Compounded Topical Pain Creams: Review of Select Ingredients for Safety, Effectiveness, and Use. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2020]


Refunds announced for dietary supplement consumers. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced that it is mailing 143,636 refund checks totaling more than $8.5 million to consumers who bought three dietary supplements deceptively marketed by National Urological Group, Inc. (NUG) and several related companies. [FTC sending refund checks totaling more than $8.5 million to consumers defrauded by misleading claims for dietary supplements. FTC press release. May 19, 2020]  In 2012, more than $6 million was returned to over 100,000 consumers in this case. The new mailing was made possible by collection of additional funds. The FTC's case against the defendants began in November 2004, when it filed a complaint charging them with making deceptive claims about the efficacy and safety of two supposed weight loss supplements, Thermalean and Lipodrene, and one supposed erectile dysfunction treatment, Spontane-ES. The complaint named NUG, National Institute for Weight Loss, Inc.; Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals, Inc.; Jared Wheat; Thomas Holda; Stephen Smith, Michael Howell; and Dr. Terrill Mark Wright. At the FTC's request, in December 2008, a federal district court ordered the marketers to pay $15.8 million and banned them from the allegedly deceptive conduct.


Study of letterboard use for children with autism criticized. Stuart Vyse, Ph.D. has reviewed a recently published report in the journal Nature Scientific Reports and has found that the report's title, "Eye-Tracking Reveals Agency in Assisted Autistic Communication," and conclusions are unwarranted. During the study, a teacher/assistant held a letterboard in front of nine autistic persons who pointed at the letters to spell words and sentences. The technique has been described as the rapid prompting method (RPM). The study was designed to track the eye movements of the autistic persons as they pointed to letters, supposedly in response to questions posed by the teacher/assistant. The researchers reported that there was anticipatory gazing at the next letter in a word to be spelled and rapid, accurate spelling. However, Vyse points out that the spelling should not be attributed to the autistic participants because there were no controls over the behavior and potential influence of the teacher/assistant. [Vyse S. Of eye movements and autism: The latest chapter in a continuing controversy. Skeptical Inquirer. May 20, 2020] Vyse wrote:

Given that the assistant is not touching the participant, the supporters of RPM have never given an adequate explanation for why the board cannot simply be placed on a table or mounted on an easel and must instead be held—often being moved around in the air—by another person. In addition, why can't the letterboard be replaced by a touch-sensitive tablet, eliminating the need for the assistant to call out the letters as the participant points to them on the board?


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This page was posted on May 25, 2020.