Announcement: New Edition of Consumer Health

For decades Consumer Health: A Guide to Intelligent Decisions was the only textbook available for college classes on the subject, and it is still the best: the most comprehensive and the most reliable. It was first published in 1976, and it has clearly had staying power. An updated 9th edition has just been released. The authors have changed over the years: this edition’s authors are Stephen Barrett, William London, Manfred Kroger, Harriet Hall, and Robert Baratz. It’s an invaluable compendium of information that would be useful to any consumer, and it’s unfortunate that McGraw-Hill is marketing it as an expensive textbook ($163).

What exactly is “consumer health”? The book’s preface and the table of contents are available here. They will provide the long answer to that question. The short answer is:

The book’s fundamental purpose is to provide trustworthy information and guidelines to enable people to select health products and services intelligently.

Chapters cover how to separate fact from fiction; how to spot frauds and quackery; advertising issues; dental care; mental health care; a science-based overview of the “CAM” movement, with a separate chapter on chiropractic; nutrition fads, fallacies and scams; weight control; fitness; prevention; major chronic diseases; drugs; skin care; medical devices; issues related to death; insurance; accreditation and licensing of health care facilities and professionals; consumer laws; and much more. It includes self-care advice. It offers historical perspectives and illustrative anecdotes, pictures of bogus devices, examples of misleading advertising, and even some cartoons. A handy appendix lists trustworthy sources of information.

It could serve as a valuable reference for anyone, even sophisticated health professionals. I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned during the revision process: I knew about health and CAM, but I was not as well informed about some of the other subjects covered, like legislation and regulation. Now I know much more.

As the long revision process proceeded chapter by chapter, I frequently read statements that made me wonder “Is that really true?” I looked them up to find that they were indeed true.  As lead author, Stephen Barrett was obsessively meticulous; and we challenged each other in numerous e-mail discussions about whether a given statement could be documented and was adequately based on current evidence. More than once, I told him “That’s not exactly true! You can’t say that.” And after looking at my evidence, he either changed his mind and modified the text or persuaded me that I was wrong. It’s a real pleasure when two professionals can resolve a disagreement by simply examining the evidence, with no interference from belief systems or egos. The total antithesis of what usually happens with CAM proponents.

I don’t take credit for this book, but I’m proud of my contributions to it, and I can vouch for its accuracy. I’m not touting it for financial gain: I was paid a small fixed fee and will get no royalties. Nor am I trying to blow my own horn. The text existed long before I got involved, and my contributions were small. I do, however, personally vouch for the information in the book. It is fact-checked and science-based, and there’s not a word of woo anywhere in it.


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17 thoughts on “Announcement: New Edition of Consumer Health

  1. PJLandis says:

    This book sounds interesting, although it sounds like more a reference than something most people, other than say students, medical professionals, or people with ongoing health problems/treatment, would are likely to read. Especially with that price point…

    I’m currently reading “Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens our Lives” which is pretty good; there’s a lot of information about Vioxx in there, some of which I kind of assumed and some that surprised me, but definitely informative and an engaging read.

    Anyway, I bring my reading up because I’d be interested in some more recommendations from the contributors and commentators on the site; maybe you could even set up a little link area such as the ones you provide for blogs and whatnot. At least some of the contributors on here are probably current or former educators, do you guys/girls have reading lists?

  2. DrHall, the book sounds fantastic, and I’d like to buy a few copies to give out to family members. I do think the price point is rather high, but I’ve done several chapter reviews for textbooks and understand how much time and money they put into getting reviews from different people, coordinating it all, and paying the reviewers. I’m having trouble locating a place to purchase it online. Amazon still has the 8th edition (you gotta love the 1 star reviews because Barrett doesn’t promote quackery.) I’ve found a few websites where it looks like I could “rent” it, but, that’s not what I want to do.

    May you post a link to purchase it?

  3. anoopbal says:

    Here is the link to the book:

    Couldn’t find it in Amazon.

  4. kia says:

    There are so many people I know who NEED to read this. Unfortunately, they probably still wouldn’t understand it, even if I bought it for them and handed it to them gift wrapped.

    It sounds fantastic though, and I’d absolutely buy it, even at that price.

    anoopbal, I found it on Amazon, for $139.60.

  5. ConspicuousCarl says:

    Here is the amazing page for the new one, but it isn’t in stock yet:

    It looks like Barrett has a few of them for sale if anyone wants to do the olde tyme thing and mail off a check:

  6. ConspicuousCarl says:

    That’s “Amazon,” not “amazing”. Thanks, SwiftKey. Oh look, you got your own name correct.

  7. daijiyobu says:

    I’ve been meaning to particularly compare the Pearson published “Consumer Health: Making Informed Decisions” by J. Thomas Butler (2012) with the very CAM-friendly “Complementary And Alternative Medicine For Health Professionals: A Holistic Approach to Consumer Health” (2013) by Synovitz and Larson published by Jones & Bartlett.

    I also have the Prometheus Butler / Barrett books: “A Consumer’s Guide to ‘Alternative Medicine'” (1992) and “The Health Robbers” (1993) by Barrett / Jarvis. It’s hard to believe that those two books are twenty years old and pretty-much pre-Internet, and so much blatant nonsense has GROWN in market share in those two decades.


  8. Scott Gavura says:


    Here are some of my favorite books and references. They’re not written with the same intent as Consumer Health but are a great starting point for developing a critical thinking mindset that will support smarter health decisions:

    I need to go through my more recent reads and update my recommendations. Ben Goldacre’s Bad Science comes to mind as an excellent resource as well.

  9. Harriet Hall says:

    Another thought for those who don’t want to pay that much: you could ask your local public library to purchase a copy.

  10. PJLandis says:

    @Scott Gavura
    Thanks for the recommendations…and the I Might Be Giants ‘Science Is Real,’ aside from joining my playlist, is gonna be my next birthday present for a lucky niece or nephew.
    I was thinking of Bad Science when I said Denialism covers familiar ground, although it includes some new facts/examples.

    Also, the library is a good idea; I’ve become so dependent on e-books I rarely ever think of a huge building full of moldy paper. However, my university library card still works 7 years after graduation, which is pretty sweet.

  11. gretemike says:

    That price is truly unfortunate, I won’t be buying it and suspect many others won’t either.

  12. gretemike says:

    My local librarian won’t buy a copy, but she did buy a copy of Wakefield’s latest book . . . grrr . . .

  13. MerColOzcopy says:

    Wow, how fitting for a SB woman doctor to be self promoting instead of taking the opportunity to celebrate motherhood on this Mother’s Day weekend. Or maybe comments like this say it all.

    # Harriet Hallon 30 Mar 2012 at 12:06 pm
    “One benefit of abortion is that it prevents the many health risks and complications associated with pregnancy. Abortion is safer than full-term pregnancy.”

    What a “Hall”mark statement, though couldn’t find it anywhere on a Mother’s Day Card.

    There is so many ways one could go with this, but out of respect (because I am such a nice person) I will leave it at that.

    This, and a cornucopia of other, lets say stuff, here on SBM, are good examples why many seek AM.

    Happy Mother’s Day to all who have sacrificed so much for all of us.

  14. MercOz, I’m trying hard to ignore the extremely distasteful thing you are implying in your comment. Dr. Hall is absolutely correct that pregnancy, in general, is dangerous. There are a ridiculous number of things that can cause or exacerbate life threatening conditions during pregnancy. In fact, pregnancy itself is contraindicated in women who have any of a number of problems (ie, Eisenmenger’s syndrome, etc) and a therapeutic abortion is indicated in order to save the life of the mother.

    Just curious, how would CAM benefit a 29 year old white female with Marfan’s and a non-operable 6-cm dilated aortic aneurysm who has recently become pregnant because she was practicing “natural” coitus interruptus?

    So, I’m not sure what your point is.

    Or were you attacking Dr. Hall for responding to comments two days before Mothers day? How many days would you like to see professional authors take off surrounding relatively insignificant “holidays”?

  15. weing says:

    From the CDC web site, 14.5 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births, for the last year on record, 2007. 6 deaths out of 827,609 abortions for 2006. That gives 0.72 deaths per 100,000 abortions. Abortion is about 20 times safer than carrying to full term. All the more reason to thank your mother.

  16. mousethatroared says:

    @MerColOz- Classy move there, trying to used Mother’s day to put a women in her place.

  17. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    MerColOzcopy, you’re not a nice person, you’re not showing respect, you’re a douchebag.

    If you want to bitch about the evils of abortion in all cases within an intellectual and context vacuum, start your own website.

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