Patrick Holford’s untruthful and unsubstantiated claims about pills

September 19th, 2007 by Ben Goldacre in adverts, bad science, competing interests, medicalisation, patrick holford | 23 Comments »

Okay, you lot are seriously on a roll. Following a complaint from a badscience reader, the ASA have found that Patrick Holford made untruthful, unsubstantiated claims in a leaflet he was sending out. Pasted below is the full adjudication and also the original advert in question, so that you can decide for yourself about the content, and I’ve also pasted my brief guide to making ASA complaints about dodgy adverts for a rainy afternoon.

I’m in a bit of a rush, but there are a few things in this ruling which I find extremely interesting.

Most important is this: the ASA seem to be vaguely under the impression that Patrick Holford does not sell pills. This is incomprehensible to me. In the Holford books I have read he recommends pills, in fact his own, from the companies he works with, and indeed from his very own pill vending company. His face appears on pill bottles. His latest pill vending operation “Health Products for Life” has just sold for £464,000. He has recently signed up with yet another pill company, Biocare, to sell even more pills with them.

To me, these are just some of the classic tell-tale traits to look out for if you think you may be dealing with a man who sells pills.

Now I speak as a man who is highly critical of the whole phenomenon of pill dependence, whether it’s the multi-billion pound supplements industry who have unbridled access to a gushing media, or big pharma peddling new diseases like “female sexual dysfunction” (I’ll post a lecture in which I discuss medicalisation in the podcast over the next few days).

I happen to think that while commercial interests are trying to persuade us that there is a biomedical, rather reductionist and mechanical reason why we are suffering from tiredness, headaches, shaglessness or heart disease, the real answers often lie in social and lifestyle issues which are intellectually simple, but motivationally and politically complex. I’m talking about things like diet, exercise, and social inequality: good luck cracking them.

Anyway, the whole pill-selling thing is, of course, all the more amusing given Holford’s frequent and rather surreal claims to have no competing interests, and his even more unpleasant and unsubstantiated suggestions that other people do have competing interests. For students of irony I very strongly recommend that you read this all-time comedy classic from the BMJ rabid responses here. It is pwnership, but on an unprecedented scale.

I could write about Holford from now until the day I die, much as these gloriously overinclusive people seem to plan to do. The only question is whether I’m bored of him: there are things which could easily awaken my interest, and there is more, but I’ve got work to crack on with. Enjoy, and don’t miss the instructions below for making your own ASA fun at home.

ASA

100%health Ltd
Carters Yard
London
SW18 4JR
 
 
 
Number of complaints: 1
Date: 19 September 2007
Media: Direct mail
Sector: Health and beauty
   
   
   
   
   

Ad
A direct mailing for books by Patrick Holford, a nutritionist, contained a booklet entitled “100%health”. Headline text stated “You don’t swallow junk food. Why swallow junk health advice?” Text in a letter from the “Editor of 100%health”, Patrick Holford, on an inner page of the booklet stated “I would like you and your family to stay healthy, free of pain and the need for drugs. But if I told you the truth in this letter, I would break the law … I’d love to tell you how powerful nutrition is, both for your mind and body. But I can’t. Why? Because advertising law prohibits me saying anything that claims to ‘treat, prevent or cure’ any condition! Even if there’s undisputed proof that nutrient ‘x’ cures condition ‘y’ I’m not allowed to tell you here. By law, I can tell you in my newsletters, but I can’t in this publication … So, excuse me if you have to read between the lines …”. Text on a separate page stated “Don’t waste your money on vitamins Myth: ‘If you eat a balanced diet you get all the vitamins and minerals you need.’ WRONG!”.

Issue
The complainant challenged the claims:

1. “… I’d love to tell you how powerful nutrition is, both for your mind and body. But I can’t. Why? Because advertising law prohibits me saying anything that claims to ‘treat, prevent or cure’ any condition! Even if there’s undisputed proof that nutrient ‘x’ cures condition ‘y’ I’m not allowed to tell you here. By law, I can tell you in my newsletters, but I can’t in this publication … ” ; and

2. “Myth: ‘If you eat a balanced diet you get all the vitamins and minerals you need.’ WRONG!” could be substantiated.

The CAP Code: 3.1;7.1;50.1;50.21;50.20

Response
100%health said the mailing was sent to subscribers to their own mailing list and also to subscribers to four other health newsletters. They explained that the booklet was an educational publication by Patrick Holford, the founder of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition, which was a degree-accredited educational charity formed to undertake research and educate the public about individuals’ optimum levels of nutrients depending on genetics, needs and life circumstances.

1. 100%health explained that the booklet provided general nutrient information only. They pointed out that they did not sell nutritional supplements, but books and other publications, which referred, generically, to the scientifically supported health benefits of nutrients. They said they understood that they were not able to state or imply in their mailing that specific nutrients could be used to prevent or cure certain conditions, even if they believed that to be the case. They asserted that the ad’s wording reinforced both ASA and legal guidelines and was not misleading; it merely pointed out to readers that they were unable to share information in their mailing about the therapeutic effects of nutrients, however well proven, although they could do so in their associated newsletters or books, because those referred to generic nutrients only. They said that position was supported by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA).

They reiterated that the leaflet promoted Patrick Holford’s 100%health newsletter only and pointed out that neither the leaflet nor the newsletter promoted named supplements. They believed the European Union (EU) directive on food supplements referred to health products, but not to publications.

2. 100%health said the statement “… Myth: ‘If you eat a balanced diet you get all the vitamins and minerals you need.’ WRONG!”, when read in context, informed readers that any 100%health newsletter to which they chose to subscribe would give substantiated information about diet, including information on sub-groups of people who might not receive all the nutrients they needed from what was generally regarded as a ‘well-balanced’ diet; they understood that the definition of ‘need’ was subjective.

They explained that the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Food, which was responsible for setting recommended daily amounts (RDA) of nutrients, stated that the consumption of nutrients above the Population Reference Intake (PRI) was not uncommon and was a result of the well-publicised claims that some nutrients had extra health benefits at intakes much higher than those needed to prevent recognised deficiency signs. They argued that their mailing was a vehicle for sharing the results of a growing body of evidence.

100%health also pointed to a publication from the Department of Health (DH), entitled “Dietary Reference Values”, which discussed whether the optimum level of nutrient consumption was above that which merely prevented deficiency. They said DH did not define what an optimum level might be and explained that their publications explored such questions.

They said vitamin RDA levels, which, they pointed out, were designed as population averages rather than individual recommendations, were sometimes inadequate for those wishing to maintain good health and reduce disease risk; they gave vitamins B, C and D as examples. They also said some essential vitamins and minerals, such as chromium and selenium, had no RDA. They submitted details of clinical studies and other academic articles that examined the effects of supplementation.

One study submitted, entitled “Clinical Studies on chromium Picolinate Supplementation in Diabetes Mellitus – A Review”, showed that, when Chromium was supplemented at a level much higher than that achievable through diet alone, it had had a positive effect on the normalisation of insulin function in study subjects with type two diabetes. The study was a meta-analysis of 15 clinical studies, 11 of which were randomised and controlled; 13 of the studies, which involved 1,690 subjects, reported significant improvement in at least one outcome of glycemic control and all 15 studies showed salutary effects in at least one parameter of diabetes management.

100%health also submitted an article, taken from the journal Lancet , which looked at the supplementation of the antioxidant selenium and its effect on gastrointestinal, lung and prostate cancers in cases where selenium intake through diet was found to be inadequate, especially in men; a dissertation paper, entitled “Vitamin C: What is the Optimum Daily Intake?”, which showed that smokers’ optimum daily intake of vitamin C to minimise the severity and duration of colds exceeded the normal RDA by up to four times; and a pooled analysis, which showed how the supplementation of vitamin D in the elderly was seen to have a positive effect on protection against breast cancer. They also pointed out that studies had shown that athletes and other active individuals could benefit from the supplementation of B vitamins.

100%health argued that those examples showed that the needs of some individuals were not necessarily met by a well-balanced diet alone. They suggested, however, that they would amend the ad with the help of the CAP Copy Advice team to clarify that, in Patrick Holford’s opinion, not everyone could achieve all of the nutrients they needed from a well-balanced diet.

Assessment
1. Upheld
The ASA understood that the Editor’s letter, which referred to legislation preventing him from revealing his views on the health benefits of optimum nutrition in the booklet, encouraged readers to subscribe to a 100%health newsletter in which, he suggested, his views would be legally disclosed. We recognised that the mailing acted only as an introduction to 100%health’s paid subscription newsletter and also that the booklet did not identify specific nutrients or medical conditions.

We noted the complainant was concerned that text in the booklet implied it was possible to reveal that certain nutrients were able to “treat, prevent or cure” specific conditions because he understood that, if that was the case, those nutrients would be classed as medicines and, as such, must comply with the regulatory requirements of the MHRA (i.e. Directive 2001/83/EC on the Community code relating to medicinal products for human use). We contacted the MHRA who confirmed that, because Patrick Holford did not sell any specific products or brands but was instead marketing his publications (which contained articles on generic nutrients only), claims made for those nutrients (whether in the booklet or the newsletter) were not caught by the Directive.

However, we were concerned that the booklet implied the newsletter included information, that could not be disclosed in the booklet for legal reasons, on the ability of specific nutrients to cure specific medical conditions. Because we had not seen evidence to show that specific nutrients cured specific medical conditions and because there was no legal restriction, we considered that the claim “… I’d love to tell you how powerful nutrition is, both for your mind and body. But I can’t. Why? Because advertising law prohibits me saying anything that claims to ‘treat, prevent or cure’ any condition! Even if there’s undisputed proof that nutrient ‘x’ cures condition ‘y’ I’m not allowed to tell you here. By law, I can tell you in my newsletters, but I can’t in this publication … ” was likely to mislead.

On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness), 50.1 (Health & beauty products and therapies – General) and 50.20 (Health & beauty products and therapies – Vitamins, minerals and other food supplements).

2. Upheld
We noted the complainant believed the claim “… Myth: ‘If you eat a balanced diet you get all the vitamins and minerals you need.’ WRONG!” was misleading, because it suggested that adequate levels of nutrition were possible only through supplementation, which he understood was at odds with generally accepted scientific opinion.

We also understood that 100%health had intended to point out that, in Patrick Holford’s opinion, scientific evidence showed that, for some individuals, a well-balanced diet that used RDAs as guidelines was inadequate.

While we noted that was 100%health’s intention, we considered that the claim implied a balanced diet was insufficient to support well-being amongst the population
in general, which we had not seen evidence to support. The CAP Code stated that “A well-balanced diet should provide the vitamins and minerals needed each day
by a normal, healthy individual …”.

While we understood that 100%health believed vitamin and mineral supplementation was essential for some people to achieve optimum nutritional benefits, we considered that the claim did not make clear that it was representative only of the author’s views. While we recognised the promising indications realised by the evidence submitted in support of vitamin supplementation for some groups, we considered that 100% health had not substantiated the implication that a balanced diet was inadequate in providing all the vitamins and minerals needed by a normal, healthy individual and the claim was, therefore, likely to mislead. We welcomed their willingness to amend the claim with the help of the CAP Copy Advice team.

On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clauses 3.1 (Substantiation), 7.1 (Truthfulness) and 50.21 (Health & beauty products and therapies – Vitamins, minerals and other food supplements).

Action
We told 100% health to remove the claims “… I’d love to tell you how powerful nutrition is, both for your mind and body. But I can’t. Why? Because advertising law prohibits me saying anything that claims to ‘treat, prevent or cure’ any condition! Even if there’s undisputed proof that nutrient ‘x’ cures condition ‘y’ I’m not allowed to tell you here. By law, I can tell you in my newsletters, but I can’t in this publication …” and “Myth: ‘If you eat a balanced diet you get all the vitamins and minerals you need.’ WRONG!” from future marketing and advised them to seek guidance from the CAP Copy Advice team before issuing further similar material.
Adjudication of the ASA Council (Non-broadcast)

Meanwhile here is the advert in question:

100health-ad.jpg

Lastly, here is my brief guide to complaining to the ASA from the badscience activism forum:

Complaining to the ASA is very straight forward and often bears fruit. They investigate claims thoroughly and publish their adjudications and voluntary agreements:

www.asa.org.uk/asa/adjudications/public/

Complaints can be made online:

www.asa.org.uk/asa/how_to_complain/complaints_form/

They deal with adverts only, for in-store posters and packaging complain to trading standards (www.tradingstandards.gov.uk/ see here). The ASA do, however, also cover leaflets which you can take away from shops. Websites you will probably have to discuss with Trading Standards, contact the office covering the area where the business is based, but the text of paid web adverts is covered by the ASA. They list on their site what they deal with:

* Magazine and newspaper advertisements
* Radio and TV commercials (not programmes or programme sponsorship)
* Television Shopping Channels
* Posters on legitimate poster sites (not flyposters)
* Leaflets and brochures
* Cinema commercials
* Direct mail (advertising sent through the post and addressed to you personally)
* Door drops and circulars (advertising posted through the letter box without your name on)
* Advertisements on the Internet, include banner ads and pop-up ads (not claims on companies’ own websites)
* Commercial e-mail and SMS text message ads
* Ads on CD ROMs, DVD and video, and faxes

I happen to know that further complaints are in line with the ASA on Holford. It will be very interesting to see what the outcome is.

And seriously. Check out the value you’ve got here. I have pointed you to a comedy classic and one of the greatest BMJ special issues of all time. Life is too rich. Hurrah for ideas, hurrah for the ASA, and hurrah for Holford!


++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
If you like what I do, and you want me to do more, you can: buy my books Bad Science and Bad Pharma, give them to your friends, put them on your reading list, employ me to do a talk, or tweet this article to your friends. Thanks! ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

23 Responses



  1. doris said,

    September 19, 2007 at 8:57 am

    Excellent!
    At least one dodgy advert has been dealt with by the ASA,after some badscience prodding.
    The badscience pH meter is working well:(PH should take note,but will he?)

  2. tom1 said,

    September 19, 2007 at 11:17 am

    That reminds me, not so long ago (6-8 weeks) I saw some ‘Dr’ McKeith health food products on sale in Sainsburys. They definately used the word ‘Dr’ on the label. Is that covered by the ASA ruling?

    Tom

  3. MikeC said,

    September 19, 2007 at 11:34 am

    Sainsbury’s currently have 2 items from “Dr” McKeith available on their online store.

    Might be worth finding details of the ruling and taking it down to a store! =:-)

  4. BobP said,

    September 19, 2007 at 11:39 am

    I think there’s a porky in their defence. They have said that the Institute for Optimum Nutrition is “degree-accredited”. I’m not sure how to check accreditation (anyone out there?) but it is phrased like this on the website -
    ION’s Nutritional Therapy Diploma/Foundation Degree Course (DipION/FdSc), accredited by the University of Luton
    This has a very different implication. Probably not significant, but, hey.

  5. BobP said,

    September 19, 2007 at 11:40 am

    Sorry, missed out the link -
    www.ion.ac.uk/about_ION.htm

  6. pv said,

    September 19, 2007 at 3:56 pm

    Ok. Pork and bull. :-)

  7. used to be jdc said,

    September 19, 2007 at 3:59 pm

    Someone has posted another link on holfordwatch to a previous adjudication. I particularly enjoyed the third part of the complaint.
    www.cap.org.uk/asa/adjudications/non_broadcast/Adjudication+Details.htm?Adjudication_id=35650

  8. misterjohn said,

    September 19, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    What happened to “Spanking Satan’s Shilling”, which began “The other day I ran into Niamh who runs the press office at PMCPA, the people who administer the ABPI code of practice. Essentially she is the press officer for the organisation that slaps big pharma on the wrist when they misbehave, and we discussed these stories of journalists taking satan’s shilling, among other things…”

  9. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 19, 2007 at 5:06 pm

    THE BRITISH DIETETIC ASSOCIATION

    The Professional Association for Registered Dietitians

    5th Floor, Charles House, 148/9 Great Charles Street Queensway, Birmingham B3 3HT

    MediaRelease

    19 September 2007 For immediate release

    Response to Advertising Standards Authority

    Final Adjudication – 100% Health Ltd/ Patrick Holford

    The British Dietetic Association (BDA) today welcomed the Advertising Standards Authority’s decision to uphold a complaint about claims made in a direct mailing for books by Patrick Holford.

    A spokesperson for the British Dietetic Association, said: “The decision by the ASA that the claims made in the direct mailing was a breach of the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code -clauses on truthfulness and substantiation – and that it was misleading is welcomed by the BDA and dietitians. This case highlights the need for the public to be wary of nutritional therapists who advocate the benefits of a specific supplement or treatment as their advice may not be completely impartial.”

    “For the majority of people eating a well balanced and varied diet, as identified in the recently launched Eatwell Plate, by the Food Standards Agency, this should provide sufficient vitamins and minerals to help them live a normal healthy life, without the need to take extra supplements. People who feel they are lacking in certain nutrients should consult appropriate expert help and will usually be better changing the amount or type of foods they eat rather than reaching for supplements.

    “Dietitians are the only statutorily recognised nutrition professionals; they have undertaken specific training to enable them to give individualised advice and support. Any decision on the need for additional vitamins and minerals to a diet should be made in consultation with a registered dietitian. Taking excess amounts of vitamins and minerals is at best expensive and wasteful, and can interfere with other functions in the body resulting in harm. Unlike nutritional therapists, dietitians are bound by a strict code of conduct, which means that any claims made about a product or particular treatment must be substantiated by scientific evidence. ”

    - Ends -

    m/f

    Media enquiries to The British Dietetic Association should be directed to our media hotline on

    1. The British Dietetic Association, founded in 1936, is the professional association for registered dietitians in Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is the nation’s largest organisation of food and nutrition professionals with over 6,000 members. About two-thirds of members are employed in the National Health Service. The remaining members work in education, industry, research, sport settings or freelance.
    2. Registered dietitians hold the only legally-recognised graduate qualifications in nutrition and dietetics. They are experts in interpreting and translating the science of nutrition into practical ways of promoting nutritional well-being, disease treatment and the prevention of nutrition-related problems. Their advice is sound and based on current scientific evidence.
    3. Registration, awarded by the Health Professions Council, is an indication that a Dietitian is fit to practise and is working within an agreed statement of conduct. For further details about The British Dietetic Association, please visit our websites: www.bda.uk.com, www.bdaweightwise.com, www.teenweightwise.com.

  10. Ben Goldacre said,

    September 19, 2007 at 5:11 pm

    Interestingly this earlier ASA adjudication on Holford seems even harsher

    Holford & Associates

    Carters Yard
    Wandsworth High Street
    London
    SW18 4AB
    Adjudication details. (Date, media type, sector and origin) Date: 26th March 2003
    Media: Leaflet
    Sector: Health and beauty
    Complaint(s) from: London
    Complaint type: Public
    Complaint

    Objection to a leaflet for health books. It stated “Feel better, look younger, live longer … The easy, natural health secrets the drug companies don”t want you to know…” and made several health-related claims including “Eradicate your risk of heart disease”, “5 easy, NATURAL steps to prevent Alzheimer”s”, “ALL of today”s major health problems have already been solved. There”s no mystery behind cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer”s, the major killer diseases. These are ALL preventable and, in almost all cases, reversible”, “so you haven”t been told all this before? Two reasons, both of which you may find shocking … First your GP probably doesn”t even know. A trainee GP spends less than 12 hours studying nutrition, compared to thousands of hours studying pharmacology. Second, the drug companies don”t want you to find out that, for example, the pain of arthritis can be eliminated using nature”s own pain killers”, “Most of what you are being told by the Government, in the papers, on TV and by your doctor, is wrong” and “Britain”s most informed, independent health expert … Patrick Holford”.

    The complainant challenged whether:

    1. the advertisers could substantiate the claims “Eradicate your risk of heart disease”, “5 easy, NATURAL steps to prevent Alzheimer”s”, “ALL of today”s major health problems have already been solved. There”s no mystery behind cancer, heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer”s, the major killer diseases. These are ALL preventable and, in almost all cases, reversible” and “the drug companies don”t want you to find out that, for example, the pain of arthritis can be eliminated using nature”s own pain killers”;

    2. the leaflet exploited the vulnerable by creating undue fear about conventional medical treatment and

    3. Patrick Holford was “Britain”s most informed, independent health expert” as the leaflet implied.

    The Authority challenged:

    4. whether the advertisement irresponsibly discouraged readers from seeking professional help for serious medical conditions.

    Codes section: 3.1, 6.1, 7.1, 9.1, 50.1, 50.2, 50.3, 50.4, 50.5, 50.11
    Adjudication

    1. Complaint upheld
    The advertisers said they had evidence to support all efficacy claims. They maintained that the risk of heart disease could be reduced by as much as 100% by lowering conditions such as high blood pressure, high homocysteine, high cholesterol, insulin resistance and by adopting a healthy diet and lifestyle including stopping smoking, reducing weight and exercising. The advertisers said, however, that they would change the claim “Eradicate your risk of heart disease” to “Virtually eradicate your risk of heart disease”. They sent copies of studies to substantiate the claim. The advertisers said the “5 easy, NATURAL steps to prevent Alzheimer”s” involved increasing vitamin E intake, reducing homocysteine, reducing stress levels, exercising and increasing intake of vitamins and antioxidants through diet and supplementation. They sent copies of studies to substantiate the claim. The advertisers said that in the claim “ALL of today”s major health problems have already been solved … These are ALL preventable and in almost all cases, reversible” they were willing to change the word “ALL” to “Most”. They maintained that the stated illnesses were curable. The advertisers said they had already stated how heart disease and Alzheimer”s disease could be prevented. They said the case for cancer as a preventable and reversible disease was made in Patrick Holfords” book “Say No to Cancer”, which referred to numerous studies that showed how nutritional and lifestyle interventions reduced the risk of cancer. They argued that medical scientist Sir Richard Doll, in his study of 45,000 pairs of twins, found that choices about diet, smoking and exercise accounted for 58% to 82% of cancers studied. The advertisers sent evidence to support the claim. The advertisers said it was well-established that non-insulin diabetes, the most prevalent form, was caused by poor dietary and lifestyle habits. They argued that the complications of diabetes could be more than halved by controlling glucose levels and that, when given chronium, diabetic adults showed improved glucose levels. They maintained that a diet for stabilising blood glucose levels and supplementation with chronium could both prevent and improve diabetes. They sent evidence to support the claim. The advertisers said they intended to change the claim “the drug companies don”t want you to find out that, for example, the pain of arthritis can be eliminated using nature”s own pain killers” to “There is no commercial motivation for drug companies to let you know that, for example, the pain of arthritis can (often) be (reduced) and sometimes eliminated using nature”s own pain killers”. They argued that the claim was supported by a comprehensive dietary and supplementary strategy, for reducing pain and inflammation, created by Patrick Holford and by several studies that found patients who suffered from arthritis improved when given fish oil, omega 3 or GLA supplements. The advertisers sent books and copies of clinical studies to substantiate the claims.

    The Authority noted, firstly, that Patrick Holford”s book merely referred to clinical studies on cancer and did not produce clinical evidence, secondly, that the studies sent showed a link between diet, lifestyle and nutrition but did not find that heart disease could be eradicated, that cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer”s could be prevented or that most major health problems had already been solved and, thirdly, that some studies found that supplements could reduce pain in arthritis sufferers but did not show that pain could be eliminated. The Authority was not satisfied that the evidence sent by the advertisers substantiated the comprehensive health claims made. It asked the advertisers not to repeat the claims unless they could send conclusive evidence to substantiate them. The Authority told the advertisers to consult the Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Copy Advice team and ensure that they were satisfied with the evidence for their claims before finalising their future advertisements.

    2. Complaint upheld
    The advertisers said they had interviewed GPs and estimated that the total number of study hours GPs spent on nutrition did not exceed 12 hours in contrast to the thousands of hours spent on pharmacology. They said the claim could be supported by statements from GPs. The advertisers said they would delete the claim “Most of what you are being told by the Government, in the papers, on TV and by your doctor, is wrong”. The Authority welcomed the advertisers” decision to delete that claim. It was not satisfied, however, that the advertisers had substantiated the claim ” A trainee GP spends less than 12 hours studying nutrition” and asked them not to repeat it. The Authority told the advertisers to consult the CAP Copy Advice team when preparing future advertisements.

    3. Complaint upheld
    The advertisers explained that most of Patrick Holford”s research and writing had been carried out when he was the director of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition (ION), which he founded. They said he now worked as an independent health and nutrition researcher, writer and presenter. The advertisers pointed out that Patrick Holford had written over 20 books on health and nutrition and was regularly referred to in the media as Britain”s leading nutritionist. The advertisers said the claim was their opinion but they believed it was an opinion shared by many others and was supported by Patrick Holford”s work. The Authority considered that the claim would be seen as an objective one. It noted the claim was a superlative one. The Authority was not satisfied that the advertisers had demonstrated the truth of the claim and asked them not to use it until they could.

    4. Upheld
    The advertisers believed the leaflet did not discourage people from seeing their GPs but merely encouraged them to study nutrition to help promote and maintain their health. The Authority noted that the leaflet encouraged readers to regard nutrition as a method of maintaining health. It was concerned, however, that the leaflet referred to ways to treat serious medical conditions and discouraged readers from going to their GP and from taking medication. The Authority told the advertisers to ensure they complied with the Codes in future.

  11. LeeT said,

    September 19, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    BobP

    You said:

    “I think there’s a porky in their defence. They have said that the Institute for Optimum Nutrition is “degree-accredited”. ”

    The Institute for Optimum Nutrition’s diploma qualification is accredited by the University of Bedfordshire. Getting the diploma is a kind of two for one offer in that you also gain a foundation degree in Nutriton.

    People who have gained the Foundation Degree have the option to study for a full honours degree. The ION does not say on its website how many people have progressed from the foundation to the honours degree. Probably not many given they do not need it to practise as nutritonal therapists.

    Lee

  12. Robert Carnegie said,

    September 19, 2007 at 7:58 pm

    Regulated advertising is one thing, a website full of bollocks is another. One now sees television advertisements – regulated – that invite you to come to the company web site and be properly suckered. Well… reading between the lines.

    Which reminds me actually – I believe there’s now something about car advertisements not allowed to show reckless, dangerous, and over-fast driving – but there’s a loophole for non-realistic portrayals. So we had Frank Sinatra singing over a kind of insane and rather horrible acrobatic circus of flying metal, we’ve got jogging Transformers, and basically anything goes in the advert once again as long as the bloke gets out at the end and folds the car up and puts it in his pocket, or something.

    I thought in the old days the ASA self-regulation trick was that a ruling would be given against an ad campaign that had finished last year anyway. “No, no, of course we will not be asking Saddam Hussein to make any more commercials for us… what? dead? such terrible news! oh, my!” Justice was served and awards were slyly presented at around the same time.

  13. pv said,

    September 20, 2007 at 12:40 am

    “The easy, natural health secrets the drug companies don”t want you to know…”

    Which drug companies?
    I expect the pharmaceutical giants, although by no means perfect, have bigger fish to fry and more profitable things to do with their time, but I’d dearly like to see at least one of them stamp on this sort of defamation of the industry.

  14. BobP said,

    September 20, 2007 at 8:46 am

    LeeT
    Their defence to the ASA says that the Institute is accredited for the granting of degrees; this is not confirmed in the ION website, and therefore it is probably a lie.

    The website says that only one course which is on offer is accredited by the Uni of Bed, and that is not a full degree course.

    I don’t know how degree accreditation works (I’ve spent about 10 mins googling but I haven’t really got anywhere)and it would be nice to find – for example – a complete list of DFES accredited institutions which would confirm or refute my allegation.

  15. BobP said,

    September 20, 2007 at 8:24 pm

    LeeT
    Their defence to the ASA says that the Institute is accredited for the granting of degrees; this is not confirmed in the ION website, and therefore it is probably untruthful.

    The website says that only one course which is on offer is accredited by the Uni of Bed, and that is not a full degree course.

    I don’t know how degree accreditation works (I’ve spent about 10 mins googling but I haven’t really got anywhere)and it would be nice to find – for example – a complete list of DFES accredited institutions which would confirm or refute my allegation.

  16. misterjohn said,

    September 20, 2007 at 10:41 pm

    This may help BobP; it’s from the DFES web site

    If you are seeking a UK degree-level qualification, you should also look at www.dcsf.gov.uk/recognisedukdegrees, which provides a list of all institutions recognised as awarding UK degrees.

    Other institutions may award degree-level qualifications from other countries. You should be clear about whether you are studying for a UK degree or one accredited from abroad, as it may affect the status of your qualification.

    It is illegal for institutions to offer degree-level qualifications purporting to be UK degrees where they do not have permission to do so, so all the information from the college at which you intend to study should be clear about the status of their degree-level qualifications.

  17. BobP said,

    September 21, 2007 at 9:01 am

    misterjon – thanx.
    Following that up -
    ION is not on the list of “Recognised Bodies”. It is on the list of “Listed Bodies”, defined as follows:
    All those institutions or bodies, which for the time being, deliver courses that lead to degrees awarded by Recognised Bodies.
    This confirms that it is the course which is accredited, not the institution; the statement in Holford’s defence is a distortion.

  18. gadgeezer said,

    September 21, 2007 at 3:19 pm

    Despite all of the above, I see that the blurb for an event on Sunday carries this information:

    Patrick Holford is regarded as Britain’s best-selling author and leading spokesman on nutrition, food, environmental and health issues, frequently quoted in national newspapers from the Daily Mail to the Guardian. Patrick is also popular on radio shows and national television as a presenter, interviewer and guest.

    When did he become a leading spokesman on food, the environment and general health issues as well as nutrition?

    Same blurb for the sensitively named:

    Methylation, Mood, Memory and Madness – reversing the cause of ‘disconnection’ with optimum nutrition

  19. Camp Freddie said,

    September 24, 2007 at 10:11 am

    Out of intrest, what does an upheld ASA judgement mean?

    Does Holford have to pay a fine? Issue an apology?

    Or is the ASA just saying “Naughty boy! Don’t do it again!”

  20. gadgeezer said,

    September 24, 2007 at 12:06 pm

    Sadly, given the earlier judgment, it looks like the last of these, CF. It might be a tad embarrassing but apart from staff time in answering the complaint, there is no cost and no fine.

    It is just a vain hope that when he is reported in MSM, the journalists involved note that he has these ASA against him. I’ve no idea how realistic that is and how they would present that information.

  21. ak said,

    November 24, 2007 at 6:26 pm

    I was pleased to see the point about selenium. There was a recent study on it in JNCI that suggests a higher risk of fatal prostate cancer in heavy takers of selenium. You want to talk about nonsense and irony? Read this article on prostate cancer prevention.

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  23. meloo said,

    June 9, 2014 at 3:05 pm

    I am quite disconcerted about what I’ve learned thus far from Ben Goldacre – that the information about medical studies that reaches the general public, has gone through a convoluted morass of diverging agendas, and ended up completely deformed. This means that, as someone who isn’t educated in the field and wouldn’t be able to interpret the studies if I had access to them, it is practically impossible for me to figure out what is really going on. Or so it seems.

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