Paving the Way for
the Wellness Revolution
In 1954, entrepreneur and author J. I. Rodale had a lot to lose. His company, Rodale Press, was just getting his fledgling Prevention magazine off the ground. Prevention was dedicated to teaching readers how to prevent disease versus just treating the symptoms of disease.
Rodale had concluded that eating large quantities of red meat and dairy products dramatically increased the risk of heart disease and that physical activity actually decreased the risk of having a heart attack. This was at a time when the U.S. government was spending millions encouraging Americans to eat more red meat and dairy products at every meal, three meals a day. Doctors were telling patients with heart disease to reduce or eliminate physical activity entirely. No wonder heart disease was the leading cause of death in the United States!
Rodale wrote about his new findings in two books: How to Eat for a Healthy Heart and This Pace Is Not Killing Us. He was convinced that this information could save millions of lives. But, like many writers in the 1950s, he was not on an approved list drawn up by Senator Joseph McCarthy's House Un-American Activities Committee, so his publisher refused to publish his new books.
This situation forced Rodale to print the books himself and try to sell them through bookstores along with his other Rodale publications. But many booksellers refused to distribute his new books. Undaunted, and convinced that the public needed this information as soon as possible, Rodale took full-page advertisements in national publications and offered his new books via mail order at a special price.
The Federal Trade Commission ordered Rodale to stop advertising and selling the books, claiming that the medical advice given in his books was unsubstantiated. The FTC had successfully taken similar action against other publishers who had promulgated then unconventional medical advice.
Rodale was furious! He felt that the FTC action was a blatant violation of the First Amendment guaranteeing freedom of the press.
The FTC scheduled hearings in 1955, at which Rodale was ordered to present proof that people who purchased the books and followed their advice would, indeed, reduce their risk of heart disease. Rodale refused to attend, claiming that the First Amendment gave him the right to publish any information he wanted, regardless of its efficacy.
"Congress did not create this Commission to act as a censor of unorthodox ideas and theories in books, whether they deal with politics or health. We should not forget that, in both fields, today's heresy may become tomorrow's dogma."
Dissenting FTC Commissioner
At these hearings, the nation's most respected medical professionals testified that (1) there was no correlation between heart disease and eating large quantities of red meat and dairy products, and (2) following Rodale's advice on increasing physical activity to avoid heart disease could be injurious, if not fatal. The FTC ordered Rodale to cease and desist from claiming, directly or indirectly, that readers of any of his publications would improve their health.*
"It is the glory of a free society that a man can write a book contending that the earth is flat, or that the moon is made of green cheese, or that God is dead, without having to 'substantiate' or 'prove' his claims to the satisfaction of some public official or agency. It is arrogance to presume that in any field of knowledge, whether dealing with health or otherwise, all the answers are now in."
Rodale appealed the case, mainly on the grounds that the First Amendment prohibited the FTC from regulating information-based products. His legal battles with the federal government dragged on for almost two decades, at times putting his entire personal net worth at risk. Over the years, the FTC, fearing that they would lose their case on constitutional grounds, attempted to settle with Rodale. But despite financial hardship, Rodale refused to back down unless the FTC agreed to acknowledge that the First Amendment prohibited them from regulating books and printed material.
In the later years of the case, Rodale's lawyers introduced new testimony from some of the same leading medical experts that the government originally used at the initial FTC hearings almost 20 years earlier. One by one, these experts refuted their original testimony, claiming they "didn't know back then," and admitted that many of Rodale's original claims had since become established medical facts. Rodale felt that there could never be a better example of what our Founding Fathers had in mind when they made freedom of the press the very first item in the Bill of Rights.
Then, in 1971, while describing his legal problems with the federal government on national television, J. I. Rodale dropped dead. Until he actually stopped breathing and turned blue, everyone watching the taping of The Dick Cavett Show thought Rodale was facetiously faking a heart attack in order to make a point about his troubles with the FTC.
The case never reached the Supreme Court.
Soon after wellness pioneer J. I. Rodale passed away, the U.S. government reversed its position, stating that the FTC would no longer require advertisers of information-based products to establish the efficacy of their claims.
This policy change opened the door for the free flow of wellness information, allowing the vitamin, nutritional supplement, fitness, and alternative medicine industries to grow to their current level, laying the foundation for the wellness revolution.
Today Prevention magazine has 12 million readers, and Rodale Press is the largest health-oriented publisher in the world, publishing over 100 new wellness titles each year that sell a combined 20 million copies per annum.