Judy Matthews is an active 11-year-old girl who plays baseball and soccer. She is apparently happy and healthy. At least her mother thought so, until she took her daughter to a chiropractor in the Toronto area.
Then she discovered Judy suffered from osteo-arthritis, mild scoliosis (curvature of the spine), pronounced asymmetry and multiple subluxations that could lead to serious health problems. The cost of chiropractic therapy to deal with these problems, she was told, would be approximately $5,000.
However, Judy’s mother did not panic and pull out her check book. In fact, she was not alarmed at all, unlike most parents upon hearing such news. For she had taken her daughter to five chiropractors as part of an undercover investigation by a team of Toronto journalists.
Judy Matthews (a pseudonym to protect the youngster’s identity) was further examined by Dr. John Wedge, chief of surgery for Toronto’s famed Hospital for Sick Children, and found to be a “perfectly healthy girl” who needed no immediate or ongoing treatment.
Yet four out of five chiropractors in the Toronto area had found “serious” problems with Judy’s spine — specifically subluxations that needed chiropractic treatment.
Judy’s experience with chiropractors was part of the research undertaken by a team of journalists, headed by veteran reporters Paul Benedetti and Wayne MacPhail, to investigate pediatric chiropractic. Their investigation, which concluded that most chiropractic treatment of infants and children is “quackery”, was reported in a week-long series in Canada’s Sun Media newspapers and on the CANOE.CA news Web site in March 2001.
Among their findings were that as many as half the chiropractors in Canada may be using illegal tools for diagnosis, chiropractors often use scare tactics on parents of young children to build their practices, and more than 70 percent of Toronto-area chiropractors contacted in a random phone survey claim to be able to treat ear infections with chiropractic adjustments. Some chiropractors were found to claim they could treat attention-deficit disorder, hyperactivity, asthma, learning disabilities and even autism.
More damning, the journalists could find no evidence that subluxations even exist or that the treatments cured the problems said to be caused by subluxations.
The cost to Canadian taxpayers through medical insurance plans and user fees for pediatric chiropractic was estimated at $40 million a year (much of which is covered by government-funded medicare in Canada).
Not all chiropractors were found wanting however. The articles noted that not all chiropractors treat infants and children and that some restrict their practices to musculoskeletal problems.
In recognition of their work, Benedetti and MacPhail received on March 28, 2001 the Ontario Skeptics’ first Award for Critical Media Reporting, “exemplifying the skeptical ideals of open-minded investigation, critical thinking, and alerting the public to the dangers of pseudoscience”.
The Ontario Skeptics also wrote the Ontario minister of health and other government officials to demand an investigation of pediatric chiropractic and to “put an end to the tragic waste of taxpayers’ dollars which are urgently needed for established treatments for actual medical conditions”. The government has not responded.
This article is based on an article that first appeared in Skeptical Inquirer.