Health Inc Integrated Wellness Centre – ASA ruling

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Posted 08 April 2013

Dr Cornelia Botha and Dr Tanith Davidson, trading as the Health Inc Integrated Wellness Centre,  are homeopaths who among other, support the measuring of IgG antibodies as an accurate predictor of allergens to which allergic individuals may be allergic to – in spite of overwhelming evidence that it does not. Does this reflect on their expertise? In this instance, they promoted the ImuPro IgG testing product, a product whose claims have had numerous adverse ASA rulings.

A consumer laid a complaint against the claims being made for ImuPro on the Health Inc website. The ASA agreed and ruled against the claims being made for the test. 

Health Inc Imupro / HA Steinman / 20493
Ruling of the : ASA Directorate
In the matter between:
Dr Harris Steinman Complainant(s)/Appellant(s)
Dr Botha & Dr Davison t/a Health Inc Integrated Wellness Centre Respondent

19 Mar 2013

http://www.asasa.org.za/ResultDetail.aspx?Ruling=6468

Dr Steinman lodged a consumer complaint against the respondent’s website advertising promoting IgG testing for food intolerances, which appeared on their website www.healthinc.co.za

The webpage is headed “IS YOUR FOOD MAKING YOU ILL?”, and explains that “FOOD ALLERGY TESTING” with “IgE” type tests will have certain benefits. It also explains that “IgG” type tests are important “… as the inflammatory process which characterise this allergy type can become chronic”.

It provides a list of illnesses or conditions that the respondent has “… found foods could trigger”. This list includes, inter alia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Asthma, Neurological and emotional problems, overweight and obesity, Fibromyalgia and rheumatic ailments. It then states:

“Knowing that the cause of a [person’s] symptoms is allergy related is the first step to treating those symptoms. Knowing exactly which foods are the ones that [person’s] body [can’t] tolerate, gives them the power to control their health. With proper guidance and dietary advice a change in lifestyle and overall health is possible.”

At the bottom, it explains that the respondent offers “… ImuPro Food Allergy Type III (IgG) Testing, which has been recommended by Patrick Holford and Dr. James Braly …”

COMPLAINT
The complainant referred to an earlier ruling against ImuPro (under reference ImuPro / HA Steinman / 14955), in which the Directorate upheld a complaint that there is no objective proof that IgG testing is able to accurately, if at all, predict individual food allergies. He explained that the advertising at issue was misleading people to part with their money for a highly dubious test, which is contrary to the ASA Code.

The complainant added that the respondent’s practitioners are alternative health practitioners and therefore precluded from offering certain testing modalities (including IgG testing) by the Code of Conduct of the Allied Health Professions Council of South Africa.

RELEVANT CLAUSES OF THE CODE OF ADVERTISING PRACTICE
In light of the complaint the following clause were taken into consideration:

• Section II, Clause 4.1 – Substantiation

• Section II, Clause 4.2.1 – Misleading claims

RESPONSE
The respondent submitted that the page was created some time ago and is based on information provided to them by MDS (the company that offers ImuPro) at that time. It has no interest in defending Imupro or MDS, but would take the opportunity to update the website. To this end, the respondent submitted material that would replace the current website information, as well as copies of the research it intends referencing on the amended website. These amendments will be dealt with below.

The respondent added that the complainant is mistaken when implying that homeopaths cannot order blood tests. A large portion of their tertiary education relates to pathology testing, and this has helped a number of the respondent’s patients.

ASA DIRECTORATE RULING
The ASA Directorate considered all the relevant documentation submitted by the respective parties.

Preliminary issues
Both the complainant and respondent commented on whether or not homeopaths are precluded from offering certain test, including the test in question. The Directorate is mindful of the fact that there are laws in place that contain such restrictions, these laws and regulations are not administered by the ASA. The Code seeks to complement rather than replace legislation, and it would be nonsensical for the ASA to attempt to enforce or administer legislation that already falls within the jurisdiction of the appropriate regulatory authorities.

In Aquila Private Game Reserve / Fairy Glen Private Game Reserve / 10323 (25 April 2008), where the Directorate had to deal with an allegation that the advertiser (Aquila) was promoting and advertising animals on its reserve, allegedly without having the requisite permits for keeping such animals. The Directorate ruled as follows:

“The question of whether or not the respondent has the necessary permits to keep certain animals ‘in captivity’ is not an advertising issue. The complainant did not submit that the respondent’s advertising communicates, for example, that one can/must keep wild or endangered animals ‘in captivity’ without authorisation.

Accordingly, the complainant’s objection regarding the Western Cape Nature Conservation Laws Amendment Act falls outside the ASA’s jurisdiction and will therefore not be considered”.

Similarly in this matter, the Directorate cannot pronounce whether or not the respondent is permitted to offer or administer the tests in question. This is something for the relevant authorities to decide. This issue will therefore not form part of the ruling.

Voluntary undertaking
The respondent submitted that it would take the opportunity to update the web content and submitted proposed content for the amended webpage.

Firstly, it should be noted that the ASA does not offer a pre-clearance on advertising. While the Directorate has a duty to consider whether the amendments would adequately address the complainant’s concerns, any acceptance thereof would not automatically imply compliance with the Code. Conversely, should the ASA not be satisfied that the proposed amendments as voluntarily put forward by the respondent address the concerns, it stands to reason that neither the amendments nor the original content would be regarded as acceptable.

The amended copy briefly outlines the history of testing for allergies with IgE tests, and explains that more recently some illnesses (asthma, eczema, IBS, migraine & migraine-like headaches, crohn’s disease and juvenile obesity have been tested for IgG food intolerances and that more diseases will be tested with time. It then provides some information on the research relied on to claim IgG testing success for these conditions, with a list of references. The respondent explained that the purpose of this information is to “document the research that supports IgG testing”.

While this certainly provides more information on the respondent’s rationale for claiming that IgG testing can successfully be used, it still effectively communicates the same impression as the original advertising complained of, i.e. that IgG testing can identify food intolerances. As such, the amendments do little to remove the complainant’s contention.

In addition, in ImuPro / HA Steinman / 14955 (13 Jul 2010) the Directorate ruled that the claim “the internationally respected Imupro Food IgG Intolerance Test can pinpoint food intolerances” remained unsubstantiated. The reason for this finding was predominantly that the respondent in that matter (who happens to be the supplier of ImuPro tests) was unable to submit unequivocal verification for efficacy from an independent and credible expert in the field to which the claims relate. To date, the ASA has not received or accepted any substantiation for the efficacy of this test.

The result is therefore that, although the respondent is now providing motivation for its implied claim that IgG testing can be used to detect and possibly treat food allergies that are associated with certain illnesses, the overall claim of efficacy in this regard remains unchanged by the proposed changes.

Given this, the ASA does not accept the undertaking tendered by the respondent, as it would not address the concerns raised by the complaint.

For the same reasons as articulated above, the Directorate also notes that the advertising that was complained about is in contravention of Clause 4.1 of Section II and Clause 4.2.1 of Section II, as it creates an expectation of efficacy that has not yet been proven, and in doing so, is likely to mislead people.

Accordingly, the respondent is instructed to:

Withdraw the advertising material in its current format.

Action the process of withdrawing this material with immediate effect,

Complete the process of withdrawing the material within the deadlines stipulated in Clause 15.3 of the Procedural Guide, and

Ensure that the material is not used again in its current format.

The complaint is upheld.

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