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Saturday, May 19, 2012

A 39-Year Obesity Treatment Fraud

In 1900, the curious little advertisement below appeared in Cosmopolitan magazine that was addressed “To Fat People” (click to enlarge).


If you read my article entitled Five Ways to Evaluate Suspicious Medical Claims, you will see that this ad definitely met the criteria of seeming too good to be true. For example, losing 2 to 8 pounds a week without any radical change in what you eat and without any significant side effects?  You will also see that the weight loss treatment is pitched by someone who claims expertise in causing weight loss, a Dr. H.C. Bradford. He made the extreme guarantee that you will never feel better in your life if you try his treatment. In addition to weight loss, he claimed that problems in organs such as the heart, kidney, and stomach will be remedied. All you have to do is send away for a booklet.

As you can below (click to enlarge), these ads would continue and become even more dramatic, with pictures of “Fat People” who appeared sad and ashamed of themselves or of a thin woman who appeared the desired weight advertised “To Fleshy People.” It was a direct appeal to the emotions and struggles of people with obesity, to compel them to write in for the booklet and get them hooked. The ads below say much of the same as the original Cosmopolitan ad but add that the five-week system is perfected and based on scientific principles and common sense. Really? Even though you can “eat as much and as often as you please.” The claims came down to a 3 to 5 pound of weight loss per week. Another claim was that all patients would receive careful and personal attention whether treated by mail of in person. The name of the place to send information to even sounds pretty legitimate…The United States Medical Dispensary.


Curious, I decided to investigate further. All attempts to find out anything about the “United Stated Medical Dispensary” came up empty, which indicates to me that it was likely just a made up fancy-sounding name to impress potential customers. So then I turned my attention to Dr. H.C. Bradford. At first, all I could find were references to his advertising and nothing about the man. In fact, I have yet to find a copy of his pamphlet that he sent out to patients. If anyone has a copy (or can tell me more about H.C. Bradford), please let me know.


Finally, after continued research, I was able to locate an article from the Journal of the American Medical Association that shed light on the entire scam. The article is called “Bureau of Investigations: Bradford, Brough, Doyle, and Davis: Various Doctors Connected with Promotion of Obesity Cure.” You can read the entire article here, but if you do not care to, here is the summary.

As it turns out, H.Clark Bradford passed away in 1915 and his business was taken over by Dr. F. Thompson Brough. However, the technique sold was still referred to as The Bradford Method. Brough had already been known in the medical community as a quack. He committed suicide in 1930. The business was carried on by a Dr. Frank J. Doyle. After he died in 1939, the business was carried on by Dr. William A. Davis.

Bradford, Brough, and his successors had been selling patients pills with ingredients (e.g., baking soda, oil of peppermint, powdered rhubarb) that had nothing at all to do with weight reduction, were not scientifically proven, and actually could lead to harmful results. While the company claimed that no chemical preparations were used in their pills lab tests showed this was not true.

The Bradford Method was primarily a mail order business and the Post Office and American Medical Association began to investigate it due to concerns of mail fraud. The company continued to claim the specialized medical expertise was being brought to bear to treat obese patients but investigations found that Drs. Doyle and Davis had no such experience. Expert medical testimony showed that these doctors did not have enough information about their patients to prescribed safe, sure, or permanent obesity cures. It was found that The Bradford Method could actually lead to fatal reactions if certain other medical comorbidities were present.

Treatment was actually not individualized to the patient since all patients received the same medications for the first five weeks. Also, five weeks was just the beginning of a process that lured people into 45 weeks of medication use, massage lotion application, and exercises. Medical testimony showed that claims that patients would not be left with wrinkles, flabbiness, or other undesirable residuals were false as was the claim that the treatment with cure problems in the other organ systems. In fact, the ingredients in the pills were known to significantly irritate the gastrointestinal tract. The exercises prescribed were potentially dangerous in certain cases, yet this did not stop them from trying to sell the product to pregnant women.

When questioned under oath. Dr. David admitted he did not know much about metabolism and did not even know the basis used to determine a calorie. He claimed to be an expert on medications but could not answer basic some basic medication questions asked of him. He was forced to admit that many of the claims made in the advertisements were untrue. On 12/1/39, a fraud order was issued against the company, banning them from further use of the mail. And thankfully, that was the end of that, but many fraudulent medical claims and activities persist to this day which people need to be continuously on the look out for.

1 comment:

  1. I ran across investigations of quacks like this guy somewhere else, not too many months ago, and recall that many of them that were barred from doing "business" through the mail found a loophole that allowed them to keep at it. They would simply state - in the advertisements - that the government was trying to shut them down, but, if patients would come to their office, they could treat the ailments there. I don't recall where I ran across this information, but it was fascinating as well as disturbing how they would figure out how to work around the ban.

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