Stuff that occurs to me

All of my 'how to' posts are tagged here. The most popular posts are about blocking and private accounts on Twitter, also the science communication jobs list. None of the science or medical information I might post to this blog should be taken as medical advice (I'm not medically trained).

Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

Science in London: The 2018/19 scientific society talks in London blog post

Thursday, 15 November 2012

ASA adjudicates on misleading diabetes advert on World Diabetes Day ;)

Fairly often, on a Wednesday, I take a look at the rulings from the Advertising Standards Authority and today I was surprised to see this one - and on World Diabetes Day! It's not one of my complaints (see more after the line).

The advert is available in full at the link above, here's an excerpt - note that the advert talks only about Type 2 diabetes and not Type 1:
The aim of any reversal programme is to help people to control their condition and, where possible, reduce or eliminate the need for medication.

His diabetes was so out of control that he had been told he would need to begin taking insulin ... After following the [redacted] ... his diabetes was totally under control without medication...
As far as I can tell it's a residential programme with access to properly qualified healthcare professionals (doctor and nurse) and people lose weight on it.

The word 'reversal' makes me twitchy though and in their response to the ASA's questions about this the company said that "a reversal of Type 2 diabetes could be defined as a reduction in an individual's blood glucose levels, a reduction in their medication, and in some cases an elimination of the need for medication."

Well... a bit... I suppose. I've always felt that a reversal of diabetes would also include significant improvements in blood fats (cholesterol etc) and blood pressure. Glucose is a big part of diabetes but there's a lot of cardiovascular stuff going on too.

I'm not sure if reversal would also mean an elimination of the threat of future complications too - although we might be getting into the tricky semantics of what is meant by 'reversal' or 'cure' and the company were very clear in their acknowledgement that there's no cure for Type 2 diabetes.

They also said that until recently "the charity Diabetes UK had not used the word "reversal" in relation to Type 2 diabetes, even though it was in common usage in the United States. They explained that that had changed in June 2011 when a small scale study undertaken by Newcastle University, funded by Diabetes UK, showed that Type 2 diabetes was reversible through diet. They stated that as a result of the study Diabetes UK had accepted that a change in diet could lead to a reversal of the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes."

Reversal of symptoms... reversal of Type 2 diabetes - which is it. Many people with Type 2 diabetes have no symptoms or any symptoms they have can easily be explained as 'just getting older'. People with well-controlled diabetes might not have the symptoms of diabetes either, but that's not a reversal of T2 diabetes.

I can't help thinking that companies that make health claims could be keeping skeptic bloggers on some sort of retainer, periodically sending them advertising material to pre-snark at before it goes live. Sort of like testing your prototype to destruction. (No, I am not offering my services).

The statement "a small scale study... showed that T2 diabetes was reversible through diet" was the thing that made me sit up on the bus this morning when I read it. They're referring to a small pilot study - that I wrote about in detail here - in which the trial participants underwent a fairly extreme diet which was very low in calories (600cal), and lasted for probably a bit longer (two months) than you might undertake on a residential healthy holiday. The trial diet and the residential programme seem to be two very different and non-comparable things and although the advert doesn't make any claims linking the two I'm really surprised that this was used in the evidence given to the ASA afterward.

The company also volunteered several satisfied customers who were prepared to offer testimonials about reductions in medication and improvements in their health... oh dear.

Not all negative though - I was pleased to see that if "a guest decided they wanted to reduce or stop taking their diabetes medication, an appointment would be made for them to discuss any changes with the doctor. They also stated that when a guest left the retreat they were given a letter to pass on to their own GP detailing the programme, and were encouraged to make an appointment as soon as possible on their return to discuss their future medication requirements."

I suppose it's also a plus that they're not offering live blood microscopy or live blood analysis or anything like that.

I have previously blogged about the company after putting in a complaint about them myself, however this particular complaint and ruling didn't come from me (and I don't know who it came from). Not long after I blogged about about my complaint the owner of the company got in touch and sent me the world's politest email asking if I wouldn't mind taking the post down. Their reason was that because the previous misleading text had now been removed - I was basically blogging 'after the fact' - my record of it wasn't doing them any favours in google as, for some reason, my blog was coming up in the first few pages. 

They were pleasant, agreed that they didn't want to mislead anyone and sounded reasonable so I happily took down the post and the comments with it. Some of the comments had been a bit snarky, but nothing unpleasant, but I said I'd leave the post for another day as I don't think it's fair to take down a post straight after someone's posted a comment disagreeing with me. The post has been down ever since and I've no plans to repost it or mention the company by name although you will easily find it from the link above.

Today's ruling amazed me. The claims were clearly pushing up to the boundaries (I agree it's quite a grey area) and I cannot understand why the company didn't agree to amend things. That way the end result would be 'informally resolved' and the company mentioned on the informally resolved page and that's it. I suppose they were confident that they could provide evidence for the claims and felt that the ASA board would agree, however there's now another page on the internet which highlights misleading claims made and I don't think it's going to be taken down no matter how polite the request. When I googled the company (and bear in mind that Google does personalise stuff) the ASA ruling was on my first page of results.

Since I am feeling kindly disposed towards pleasant people, even if I disagree with their claims, I will remove the company's name from any comments. 

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Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

Comments written in ALL CAPS LOCK will be deleted and I won't publish any pro-homeopathy comments, that ship has sailed I'm afraid (it's nonsense).