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Getting Women's Seal of Approval : Two Female Medical Associations Monitor Claims of Products

September 01, 1987|GARY LIBMAN | Times Staff Writer

Consumers may soon be able to buy health-related products for women and children and be more assured that they are--or will do--what manufacturers claim. One organization of doctors recently broke with the non-endorsement policy and put its seal of approval on a citrus-juice product called Citrus Hill Plus Calcium.

This follows by only two years a similar action by another association of medical professionals, which placed its seal of acceptance on one brand of babies' disposable diapers.

For decades, product endorsement has been an on-again, off-again procedure among medical groups. The American Dental Assn. broke its 101-year tradition in 1960 when it publicly endorsed a product, Crest toothpaste. A year later, the American Heart Assn. began recommending foods that are healthy for the heart.

Now two female medical associations are monitoring health claims of products for women and children.

In fact, the American Medical Women's Assn. (AMWA) has granted its first seal to Citrus Hill Plus Calcium, orange and grapefruit juices with a calcium supplement. Their interest, or concern, was primarily with the supplement, because based on medical reports, an estimated 15 million to 20 million women lacking in calcium suffer from osteoporosis, a rapid loss of bone mass that increases risk of fractures.

Departed From Tradition

Two years ago, another organization, the National Assn. of Pediatric Nurse Associates & Practitioners, departed from tradition and put its seal of acceptance on Ultra Pampers disposable diapers.

Both the AMWA, which is a 72-year-old doctors' group based in New York, and the 2,800-member nurses' organization, headquartered near Philadelphia, are reviewing other manufacturers' claims of health benefits and plan major expansions of their lists.

Their approval of products runs counter to the philosophy of the American Medical Assn., which ended a 25-year seal-of-acceptance program in 1955.

B. J. Anderson, associate general counsel for the AMA in Chicago, said the organization stopped the program because it feared lawsuits if it withdrew its seal from products. In fact, the association had already been involved in one lawsuit at the time it changed its endorsement policy.

"The second reason we gave it up," Anderson said, "was that by 1955 you had better capability for testing and approval of prescription drugs and medical devices in the Food and Drug Administration."

Carol Davis-Grossman, executive director of the American Medical Women's Assn., said her group is eliminating the threat of lawsuits by developing an agreement with manufacturers that the association assumes no liability.

Dr. Constance U. Battle of Washington, the AMWA's immediate past president and the leader of its scientific evaluation council, said today's consumer products need testing beyond the efforts of the FDA.

Outside of drugs and medical devices, she said, "the government is not in the business of looking at everything. The government is in the business of looking at things with . . . extreme recognized dangers or products about which concerns have surfaced.

"We're in a different world than when the AMA made its decision," she added. "In 1955, people were not bombarded by advertisements like they are today," she said.

Today, she said, "Everything is put forth as glamorous, exciting, good for you and makes you a bionic woman and all that."

Those advertising and promotion campaigns make evaluation necessary, she said, and added that she hopes the program will spur manufacturers to improve their products.

One company that has benefited from the approvals is Procter & Gamble. The Cincinnati-based organization conducted the fluoridation research that lured the endorsement from the American Dental Assn. 27 years ago. It also makes Ultra Pampers and Citrus Hill Plus Calcium.

Procter & Gamble spokesmen said the company approached the American Medical Women's Assn. and the pediatric nurses to review the company's product research for the benefit of its scientists, but the leaders of the organizations said they decided they would better serve the consumer by publicly approving successful research.

The AMWA, with a membership of 10,000 female doctors and medical students, was particularly concerned about claims attached to the calcium supplement, Battle said.

The physician said because of the seriousness of osteoporosis the AMWA's scientific evaluation council consulted outside experts and reviewed the research for five months before accepting the company's claims. Shortly thereafter, the organization granted its first seal of approval to the juice, and a short statement appeared on the product beside a medical caduceus wrapped around a feminist symbol.

Earlier, the pediatric nurses organization conducted a similar review to determine whether Ultra Pampers keep babies' skin dry. Now the organization's name circles its initials next to a short message of approval on the diaper box.

As they review other products, the medical and nurses groups are enthusiastic about expanding their approval programs.

"We have made known through the electronic and print media that we're willing to review products," Battle said. "We would like to be approached by any company or manufacturer that feels they have a good product that . . . would help women.

"The woman consumer is barraged on all sides with all sorts of things for which she has to make a decision and she can't do it. She doesn't have the background," she said.

"There has to be some way to decide which (item) to take off the shelf. . . .

"She can buy the package which looks the prettiest or has the most clever wording, but she simply cannot make a wise decision without help."

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