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May 30, 2016

Kind Nutrition Bars — A “Healthy” Choice?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:58 am

Last year, the Food and Drug Administration sent a warning letter to Kind, LLC, a maker of supposedly “healthy” nutrition snack bars and similar foods.

The agency singled out four of their nutrition bars as making problematic claims not in compliance with FDA regulations: Kind Fruit & Nut Almond & Apricot, Kind Fruit & Nut Almond & Coconut, Kind Plus Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein, and Kind Plus Dark Chocolate Cherry Cashew + Antioxidants.

KIND box

Take the above dark chocolate peanut butter bar, for example. They say this bar is “misbranded” because the product labels bear nutrient content claims, but the products do not meet the requirements to make such claims. Specifically, the label makes the claim “Healthy and tasty, convenient and wholesome” in connection with statements such as: “good source of fiber,” “no trans fats,” and “7g protein.”

And their website says:

KIND Peanut Butter Dark Chocolate + Protein is a healthy & satisfying blend of peanuts and dark chocolate. Each bar contains 7 grams of protein, which promotes satiety and strengthens bones, muscles and skin.

MOUSE PRINT*:

The problem according to the FDA is that you can only use the term “healthy” as an implied nutrient content claim on the label or in the labeling of a food provided that the food, among other things, is “low saturated fat” [i.e., the food has a saturated fat content of 1 g or less per Reference Amount Customarily Consumed (RACC) and no more than 15 percent of the calories are from saturated fat]. But according to their nutrition label, the product fails this test, with three and half times the saturated fat and four times the calories allowed from saturated fat.

KIND

The product also cannot be called “anti-oxidant rich” because it does not contain at least 20% of the daily requirement of nutrients recognized for their anti-oxidant qualities. It only contains 15% of the Daily Value (DV) of vitamin E and 0% of vitamin C and vitamin A.

In addition, there are technical problems with their “no trans fat” and “good source of fiber claims.”

Virtually all of these violations are not obvious to purchasers who probably see this product as some sort of health or nutrition bar. And one has to wonder whether if this is all about the marketing of candy bars cloaked with seeming health benefits.

Fast forward to May 2016: The FDA seems to have had a change of heart and has told Kind that it can return the word “healthy” to its bars. In the meantime, the agency says it is going to re-evaluate its two-decade-old regulations governing the word “healthy” and may come out with new rules. That is sure kind of the FDA.




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January 25, 2016

Spiriva – Half the Medicine Provided is Wasted

Filed under: Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:35 am

This is a strange one.

Thomas A. wrote to Mouse Print* about Spiriva — an inhalation therapy drug for people with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). The medicine comes in a metal canister that slips into an inhaler.

Spiriva

What caught Thomas’ attention was the net contents statement on two different inhaler boxes — the small size (for two weeks of use) and the large size (for four weeks of use).

*MOUSE PRINT:

Spiriva

Both contain exactly the same amount of medicine — four grams — but one canister provides 28 doses and the other 60. How could this be?

We called the company and spoke to a nurse there to try to understand how this was possible. She directed us to the patient information sheet packed in each box.

*MOUSE PRINT:

The SPIRIVA RESPIMAT cartridge for each strength has a net fill weight of 4 grams and when used with the SPIRIVA RESPIMAT inhaler, is designed to deliver the labeled number of metered actuations (60 or 28) …

It seems the company manufactures only one size of canister but sells two different inhaler mechanisms. One delivers two-weeks-worth of medicine (28 puffs) and the other four-weeks-worth (60 puffs). So basically, the two week version is overfilled, and half the medicine goes to waste.

Now, couldn’t a smart consumer who has to use this stuff on an ongoing basis just buy the two week version and use it for a month? Or if the inhalers really are different, first get a prescription for the four week size, and then subsequently refill it with a two-week canister and get four weeks of medicine out of it for half the price?

Nope. The company is not stupid.

*MOUSE PRINT:

When the labeled number of actuations (60 or 28) has been dispensed from the inhaler, the RESPIMAT locking mechanism will be engaged and no more actuations can be dispensed.

The cash price for a month’s supply of Spiriva is enough to take your breath away — about $400. The two week version is generally only available in hospitals or as a doctor’s sample.

If the company can afford to overfill the two week cartridges, that suggests the actual cost of the medicine must be minimal.




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December 14, 2015

Holy Cow, How Wise is Milkwise?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:03 am

Have you checked out the dairy aisle lately? There are all these newfangled milk products on the shelf, all claiming in one way or another to be better than plain old milk.

One such product in New England stores is Hood (brand) Milkwise.

MilkWise

It’s got one-third the sugar, almost half the calories, and 50 percent more calcium than even reduced fat milk. How did they do that… put the cows on a low fat and low carb diet?

The answer is in the fine print.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Milkwise ingredients

They watered it down — water is now the first ingredient — plus they added calcium and sugar. That is why it is called a “milk beverage” instead of milk. This product is reminiscent of Trop50, the “orange juice beverage” that claimed 50% fewer calories because it is basically orange juice diluted with a lot of water.

But the Milkwise label makes it seem so healthy. How can this be? The trick is that they left out one key attribute of milk in the comparison — protein. We’ve taken the liberty of filling in the blanks.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Milkwise protein

Milkwise only has one-quarter the protein of regular milk. Expressed the other way, regular milk has four times the protein of Milkwise.

Maybe it should be called Milk-not-so-wise.

Thanks to Dr. W who was driving along the highway in Saugus, Massachusetts and saw a Milkwise billboard with a mother and child. She thought the ad was suggesting that this was a healthier milk product.




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December 7, 2015

A Dirty Little Health Insurance Secret

Filed under: Health — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:49 am

MrConsumer has probably spent in excess of 30 hours doing research to help a self-employed New York friend find a new health insurance policy since his current company is being shut down by New York state because of its financial condition.

What the Affordable Care Act has done, at a minimum, is put policies for a dozen or more companies all in one place to help make price and benefit comparisons easier.

Shopping for a “platinum” policy — where there is no deductible and lower co-pays in exchange for paying more per month upfront — has been a challenge, not so much because of price, but rather because of the limited networks of doctors and hospitals being offered.

And that’s the dirty little secret or *MOUSE PRINT of many non-group plans. They are only able to achieve relatively low monthly premiums by having very high deductibles and/or very limited networks. For my friend, we’ve overcome high deductibles by paying more per month. But we can’t overcome the limited networks of doctors.

Of the 40 or so platinum plans listed on the New York health exchange, NOT ONE OF THEM had all four of my friend’s current doctors. And don’t think this is a problem peculiar to the exchange or because of “Obamacare.” The non-group individual plans offered directly to consumers by these same insurance companies use the same limited networks. To save money, presumably they have eliminated many of the most expensive doctors and hospitals in favor of “more efficient” ones.

As an example, Health Republic, the company being forced to close by New York, offered my friend access to 28 hospitals within five miles of his zip code.

Health Republic

*MOUSE PRINT:

Empire Blue

By comparison, Empire Blue Cross and Oscar, two leading providers in the area, only offer 12 or 13.

And fewer doctors accept these two plans. Well, how big are the doctor networks for each company? They can’t or won’t tell you, making excuses that the number of doctors keeps changing or that they just don’t know. How can any health insurance consumer make an informed decision if you don’t know how limited the network is that you are buying into?

Given that lack of information about the number of doctors in an insurer’s network, how can you judge the size of the provider network that accepts your insurance? In addition to the number of hospitals test, MrConsumer created the David/John/Smith/Cohen test. If the website of the health insurance company allows you to search by first name only for primary care physicians and/or specialists, choose a radius of five miles from your zip code, and enter the name “John” or “David.” Then compare the number of Johns and Davids in each of the plans you are considering. One can presume that higher numbers indicate more doctors that accept that insurance.

If you cannot search by first name, enter a common last name like “Smith” or “Cohen” and compare how many doctors with that name each plan has.

Why is the size of insurer’s provider network important? If you are referred to a specialist by your primary care doctor for a new condition, or are diagnosed with a condition best treated at a specialty hospital, you want to be able to get treatment at this preferred provider rather than having to settle potentially for someone less expert or a less well-equipped hospital. Most of these policies do not have “out-of-network” coverage.

So what plan did MrConsumer’s friend wind up with? He still hasn’t decided, but will have to give up some of his current specialists.




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August 3, 2015

Muscling In on Your Pocketbook

Filed under: Health,Internet — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 6:24 am

  PRNewswire, a respected firm that companies hire to disseminate their press releases, published an unusual one last year with the headline: “ScamOrNotReviews Announces Muscle Xlerator Review for 2014.” The release purportedly was announcing the publication of test results by this consumer group of a pill to help build muscles.

The summary of the release reads as follows:

ScamOrNotReviews, a consumer advocacy group, has announced the release of their 2014 Muscle Xlerator review. The company examines claims made by product manufacturers to ensure their validity, and in the case of Muscle Xlerator, they have found that the manufacturer’s claims are accurate.

ScamOrNotReviews? A consumer advocacy group? Gee, MrConsumer never heard of them. Who are they?

The answer, according to a press release about a different product published the same day, is this:

ScamOrNotReviews is a consumer advocacy group with the goal of testing products for consumers, preventing companies from successfully misleading them with regard to products or services that may be offered. For several years, the review company has helped consumers sift through the many accurate and inaccurate claims made by companies in order to sell a product or service.

Wow, Consumer Reports has competition.

*MOUSE PRINT:

Googling ScamOrNotReviews did not turn up a functioning website for this consumer group, nor any of their reviews. Links in the press releases purportedly to the reviews themselves went to what looked like advertisements for the products. In the case of Muscle Xlerator, it showed a young woman speaking in a heavy Russian (?) accent saying that the product will help build muscle mass. And beneath the videos were links to the websites that sell these products.

The press releases came from a company called AfterHim Media, LLC, a web design and search engine optimization company. Who do they really represent here? The illusive consumer group or the sellers of these products?

As to the product itself, Muscle Xlerator, the website claims that these capsules will “build muscle mass and get ripped quickly.” They offer a $5.95 trial, but in virtually unreadable type in a footnote it says:

*MOUSE PRINT:

If you are satisfied, do nothing and you agree to be charged $89.95. Plus you agree to be enrolled in our Auto-Ship Membership Program and 45 days from your initial order date and every 30 days thereafter, you will be shipped a fresh supply of MuscleXLerator for $89.95, plus $5.95 shipping and handling.




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