Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Follow-up: Keeping Baby Massage Honest

Good news! I got a reply from the president of the IAIM, Ms Anita Bates. After reading her reply and googling her a bit I arrived at the conclusion that she's a genuinely nice person who wants to help. Here's her reply:


Dear Mr Stabler,
Firstly, can I apologise that you did not receive a response from your initial email to us. We have checked and cannot find a record of it, so there was obviously a glitch at our end.
Thank you for taking an interest in the work of the International Association of Infant Massage (IAIM), and for blogging about how using infant massage strengthened the bond between your wife and your baby son.
I note you mentioned that the instructor who had run the baby massage course your wife attended had made some ‘very interesting claims’ about the benefits of massage, which were also included in the literature your wife received.
It would really help us to know if the instructor was IAIM trained as, if she did make misleading claims, then of course we need to know and to take action. We would also like to see a copy of the literature you refer to, to help us in our investigations.
The IAIM’s founder, Vimala McClure, began developing what is now the IAIM’s infant massage programme, which combines centuries-old Indian and Swedish massage traditions with principles from yoga and reflexology, in the 1970s.
Tens of thousands of parents and healthcare professionals around the world have since been trained to use the techniques, and happily endorse the positive physical and emotional benefits that the techniques can bring to both babies and parents/carers.
However, we do take your questioning of the evidence behind some of the very positive benefits outlined on the IAIM website very seriously.
I would like to assure you that the IAIM UK Chapter is currently undertaking a complete review of the information on the website. In fact, over the last few years the board has been piloting ways of gathering feedback from parents, carers and health professionals, so our claims can be clearly be backed up by evidence and demonstrated in real time.
Please do not hesitate to get back to me – especially if you can identify the baby massage instructor and the printed materials you refer to.
Kind regards
Anita Bates
President, IAIM UK Chapter


Considering the content of her response I wondered why it took so long to get back to me, but I guess I can appreciate people are busy. At least I got a reply!

I won't pick her response apart; I'll just post my reply:


Ms Bates,
Thank you very much for your reply. I can understand your problems with my first email; I work in IT and I know first-hand how overzealous some spam filters can be.
Unfortunately, my wife's attendance at a baby massage course was quite a while ago now so we do not have any of the literature and memory of who the instructor was has long-since faded. I mentioned it in my previous email only to provide background and the reason for my attention to your website. My primary focus has been the claims made on the IAIM websuite because of the potential for IAIM members to use it as a source of information for their own websites etc.
It doesn't surprise me that tens of thousands of people attest to positive experiences with baby massage and my wife may be one of them. However, this doesn't really address the problem of a lack of objective scientific evidence for what are specific claims of health benefits.
I'd like highlight a very recent example which I believe demonstrates the problem with the current trend of using testimony and anecdote to justify objective claims. Recently the ASA concluded that the claims made by a faith-healing group were misleading (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-16871116). While I accept that the claims made for infant massage are not as extreme as those by the HOTS group, the analogy is very close. I am sure tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of people would attest to positive health outcomes through the use of faith healing or prayer. However, whenever controlled studies are performed on the efficacy of faith-healing or intercessory prayer it is discovered that it does not work in any practical sense. Therefore a higher standard of evidence is required to make such claims.
I'm glad that you acknowledge the importance of questioning the evidence underpinning claims of benefits. I am, however, looking for actions that demonstrate the IAIM is dedicated to an honest and evidence-based approach in their communications. Although I have no reason to doubt that the IAIM is currently reviewing the contents of its website may I just reiterate the fact that I am not simply seeking some kind of personal satisfaction; I am looking to establish whether the website material breaches very important regulation that exists to protect the public (http://www.cap.org.uk/The-Codes/CAP-Code/CAP-Code-Item.aspx?q=CAP%20Code%20new_Specific%20Category%20Sections_12%20Medicines,%20medical%20devices,%20health-related%20products%20and%20beauty%20products_Rules#c581), something the IAIM should be looking to address urgently.
Therefore I'd appreciate it if you could answer some further questions:
1. How long will the review of your website take?
2. Will the completion of the review result in the removal of unsubstantiated claims?
3. Will the completion of the review result in the citing of scientific evidence to back up any objective claims made?
4. What does the IAIM's efforts to gather feedback from parents, carers and health professionals have to do with providing objective evidence to back up claims made?
If the answer to the first question is a period of time longer than the resolution procedures of the Advertising Standards Authority then I may as well just complete their online complaints form and add to their workload. However, I'd much rather see an internal resolution. I'm also keen to see the claims made on IAIM members' websites substantiated. On, what I assume, is your own website, for example, I found dubious claims such as "strengthens baby's immune system" and "helps to balance baby's respiration" (http://www.babybitsandbobs.com/page2.htm).
Health workers and professionals play a very important role in society, but they must be careful not to step outside the boundaries of fact and into the world of fiction when making objective claims for their treatments and interventions. Using assumptions, intuition and anecdote instead of science leads to the slippery slope of misleading and potentially harmful claims.
Kind Regards,
John Stabler

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