Consumer Health Digest #03-04

Your Weekly Update of News and Reviews
January 28, 2003


Consumer Health Digest is a free weekly e-mail newsletter edited by Stephen Barrett, M.D., and cosponsored by NCAHF and Quackwatch. 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 sues Clark Association. The U.S. Federal Trade Commission has charged the Dr. Clark Association (a nonprofit organization in California), Behandlungzentrum GMbH (a Swiss company), and Scientologist David Amrein (a Swiss citizen who is the sole officer and director of both) with making unsubstantiated claims about several products. [Swiss company charged by FTC with making unsubstantiated health claims. FTC news release, Jan 27, 2003]. The complaint, filed in an Ohio federal court, alleges that the defendants made unsubstantiated representations that:

Hulda Clark is an unlicensed naturopath who obtained her "degree" from a nonaccredited correspondence school. She has written several books and operates a clinic in Mexico where she offers treatment for cancer and other serious diseases. In 2001, the FTC obtained a consent agreement with another company selling Clark-recommended products. [FTC prohibits marketers of herbal products and the "Zapper" from making unsubstantiated claims. FTC News Release, Dec 29, 2001] Quackwatch has documents from this case and extensive information about Clark.


More neck manipulation complications reported. A 7-man neurosurgical practice group has described the cases of 22 people who developed serious complications during or immediately after undergoing chiropractic neck manipulation. The authors concluded that neck manipulation may cause or worsen disc herniation or nerve irritation or compress the vertebral artery. They also warned that neck manipulation may be be associated with higher complication rates than previously reported. [Malone DG and others. Complications of cervical spine manipulation therapy: 5-year retrospective study in a single-group practice. Neurosurgical Focus 13(6), 2002] (Medscape registration is necessary to access the full text of this article.)


Obesity suit against McDonald's dismissed. A federal judge has dismissed the suit filed last year on behalf of children who claimed they had become obese by frequently eating hamburgers, french fries, and other high-calorie, high-fat foods at McDonald's. The judge ruled that the complaint was not sufficiently specific (for example, it failed to state how often plaintiffs had eaten at McDonald's), had failed to demonstrate that McDonald's had advertised deceptively, and had failed to rule out other factors that could cause obesity. But according to the Obesity Policy Report, the judge "practically invited the plaintiffs to file an amended complaint" by suggesting out that that consumers can't be charged with knowledge of the dangers of foods that have been so highly processed that they no longer resemble the originals. [Judge tosses out complaint against McDonald's, but suggests re-filing under novel theory. Obesity Policy Report, Jan 22, 2003] The 65-page decision in Pelman et al. v. McDonald's Corp., 02 Civ. 7821 (RWS) can be downloaded from Casewatch.


Survey finds most doctors comfortable with direct-to-consumer (DTC) drug ads. An FDA survey of 500 physicians has found that most of them believe that correctly done DTC advertising can increase patient awareness of treatable diseases and prompt discussions that result in needed treatment (often not the treatment suggested by the ad). Most respondents said that DTC ads are but one of many factors that can affect their practice and their interactions with patients. [FDA releases preliminary results of physician survey on direct-to-consumer Rx drug advertisements. FDA Talk Paper T03-03, Jan 13, 2003]


New Zealand bans 11 traditional Chinese medicines. New Zealand's Director-General of Health Dr Karen Poutasi has advised consumers to stop taking eleven traditional Chinese medicines sold as herbal remedies after an investigation revealed that they contain prescription medicines and/or toxic substances. The Ministry of Health's medicines safety authority (Medsafe) has ordered the withdrawal of three traditional Chinese medicines containing the herb aristolochia, which can cause kidney damage and urinary tract cancer. Several other traditional Chinese medicine products containing prescription medicines are also being withdrawn.

The problems were uncovered during an investigation into a complaint to Medsafe about a Chinese herbal medicine. Testing was carried out by either the Therapeutic Goods Administration in Australia (TGA) or the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) in New Zealand. Many products may not have information in English on the packaging, and even labels in English may present identification problems because English translation of Chinese herbal ingredients can vary. [Director-General's privileged statement under Section 98 of The Medicines Act 1981. Media release, 21 Jan 2003]


Showtime schedules "alternative medicine" exposé. Showtime Networks has announced that the second episode of "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" will cover chiropractic medicine, reflexology, magnet therapy, and a trip to an alternative medicine fair that ends in a "sting" operation. The broadcast, which includes an interview with Dr. Stephen Barrett, will air at 11 PM Friday (January 31) and be repeated on February 1 at 1 AM, February 6 at 10 PM, and February 13 at 10:35 PM.


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This page was posted on January 28, 2003.