Nomination For The Biggest Single Fraud On The American Consumer: Vitamins

Government fraud on the American people is massively huger than anything anyone in the private sector could ever hope to achieve.  And thus, seeking to stick to the big issues, I tend to deal much more with the endless supply of government scams.  But let's not suggest that there aren't plenty of private scams as well, aimed toward getting lots of money from the American consumer on false pretenses.

What is the very biggest, most blatantly crooked, and most successful of all such scams?  I have a nomination: vitamins.  I am willing to accept any and all additional nominations.  But this nomination of vitamins is very hard to top.  It has all the key elements of the massive successful fraud.  It's not just the endless ridiculously false claims.  (Vitamins protect against cancer!  Vitamins will make you live longer!  Vitamins make you look better! ).  But then there is the very name itself -- "vitamin" suggests "vital" and "vitality."  And there's the not so subtle implicit government backing for the claims.  And the groupthink acceptance.  I'll bet you take a daily vitamin!

What is the total annual volume of the vitamin scam?  That's actually a little tricky to get a handle on, since there is substantial play in the definition of what constitutes a "vitamin" versus a mineral or a dietary supplement.  Estimates I find range from as little as about $5 billion on the narrowest definition to as much as $30 billion on the broadest.  

And is there any evidence whatsoever for positive health effects from taking these things?  Sorry, but no.  The December 2013 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine has reports on results of three major studies.  (  Plus an editorial, pithily titled  "Enough is Enough: Stop Wasting Money On Vitamin and Mineral Supplements."  Here's the key quote from the largest of the studies:

"After reviewing 3 trials of multivitamin supplements and 24 trials of single or paired vitamins that randomly assigned more than 400 000 participants, the authors concluded that there was no clear evidence Of a beneficial effect of supplements on all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease or cancer."

The results of the other studies are essentially the same.

My second nomination was going to be statins, a $30 billion annual market for which the evidence of benefit is exceedingly thin.  But "exceedingly thin" is not the same as non-existent, which is the sorry case for vitamins.  And hey, I take a statin!

(Sorry, but no success at adding links to this post, done on my iPad.)