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June 10, 1988

Health Fraud's Toll: Lost Hopes, Misspent Billions

JAMA. 1988;259(22):3229-3230. doi:10.1001/jama.1988.03720220005004

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THE LINEUP of worthless health devices and potions displayed at the recent National Health Fraud Conference in Kansas City, Mo, would have been almost humorous if it didn't represent the lost dreams, desperate hopes, and misspent cash of so many Americans. Medical quackery perpetrated against the public costs some $25 billion a year—no laughing matter—with phony cancer cures alone accounting for $4 billion to $5 billion of that amount.

The elderly spend $10 billion a year on medical quackery. But youngsters are a promising market for false claims that often capitalize on the desire to look better, such as by losing weight.

And some quackery cuts across age groups. For example, arthritis affects about one in seven Americans, and the "miracle" cures range from the relatively harmless, like lemon juice or milk from "specially treated" cows, to the potentially dangerous unsupervised use of corticosteroids.

The conference focused attention on the