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Homeopathic health claims broke advertising code of practice, watchdog rules

The Advertising Standards Authority has ruled that homeopathic practitioners broke its code of practice by making health claims that discouraged ‘essential treatment’ for serious conditions.

The advertising watchdog’s decision found against two statements made online by the Society of Homeopaths, which claimed there was a ‘growing body of research’ supporting homeopathic treatment for a range of conditions.

The ASA criticised the society for discouraging ‘essential treatment’ for conditions such as depression, bronchitis, childhood diarrhoea and influenza.

The ASA investigated two statements made by the society. The first was on its Twitter page, with a tweet reading ‘Antidepressant prescriptions up by 43%. For more holistic healthcare which doesn’t rely on drugs try #homeopathy’ and a link to the society’s homepage. The second was a page on the society’s website which said there was ‘a growing body of research evidence suggesting that treatment by a homeopath is clinically effective, cost effective and safe’.

The ruling found that the tweet was targeted at ‘vulnerable patients’ and could ‘discourage essential treatment for depression, a medical condition for which medical supervision should be sought, and misleadingly implied that homeopathic remedies could alleviate symptoms of depression’.

The advert on the society’s website also breached the Committee of Advertising Practice Code, the ASA found. It said the code stated that marketers must ‘not offer treatment for conditions for which medical supervision should be sought, unless that treatment was conducted under the supervision of a suitably qualified health professional’. As ‘homeopath’ is not a protected title, the advert broke the code, it said.

The society argued the sentence ‘for more holistic healthcare which doesn’t rely on drugs try #homeopathy’ complied with the code because it merely described homeopathy as a more holistic form of healthcare.

It also said there was indeed a growing body of evidence that supported the efficacy of homeopathy. However, the ASA ruled that the research was not sufficiently robust.