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TV Drug Advertising Relies on Emotion, Not Facts

Most do not provide information on the medical condition, risk factors, or alternatives to medication

TUESDAY, Jan. 30 (HealthDay News) -- Direct-to-consumer television advertising of prescription medications, currently only allowed in the United States and New Zealand, is largely based on emotional appeals, not facts, and often does not provide information about a medical condition, risk factors, or lifestyle changes that could be an alternative, researchers report in the January/February issue of the Annals of Family Medicine.

Dominick L. Frosch, Ph.D., from the University of California Los Angeles, and colleagues analyzed 38 unique television ads representing seven of the 10 best-selling prescription drugs in 2004. The ads were shown during prime-time in the United States.

The researchers found that although most (82 percent) of the ads made some factual claims about the target condition, about three-quarters failed to provide information on the medical condition, risk factors or prevalence. None of the ads suggested making lifestyle changes instead of taking medication, although some ads suggested that lifestyle changes could be an adjunct to medication. The majority of the ads (95 percent) relied on emotional appeals such as regaining control over some aspect of life or obtaining social approval.

Noting that drug companies have announced new advertising guidelines that are "a step in the right direction, physicians, consumers and policymakers must take further action so that the facts about medicines are not lost in the advertising fog," David Kessler, M.D., and Douglas Levy, J.D., from the University of California San Francisco, write in an accompanying editorial. "As [the study authors] correctly point out, the consequences of poor judgments are quite different for drugs than they are for soap."

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