“Surefire cure for erectile dysfunction!”
“Lose 10 pounds this week!”
“Lower your A1C!”
“XYZ Brand cured my (fill in the blank)!”
The ads bombarding you 24-hours a day via the internet, TV, social media and every known pathway all have one goal: to get you to buy their product. Some of them are true. Some are truly misleading. Some of them are downright dangerous.
Chances are there’s a product out there that could be useful. Chances are even better that there are things that would be a total waste of your time and money, or downright damaging.
How can one rational person sort it all out?
Three experts recently appeared at the Commonwealth Club in San Francisco to offer help: Dr. George Lundberg, founder and president of the Lundberg Institute (designed to build better-informed patients, physicians and relationships between the two;) Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, Editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA😉 and Dr. Kamran Abbasi, Editor of the British Medical Journal (BMJ.)
“There’s information overload,” said Dr. Domingo; “there’s disinformation, there’s spin. We need clear, consumable information.” Dr. Abbasi added that thanks to social media and the proliferation of non-medical sources, it’s hard for ordinary consumers to find evidence-based medical information.
All this is thanks to Direct to Consumer marketing. Every country in the world bans DTC marketing — except the U.S. In 1997, during the second Clinton administration, the Federal Trade Commission relaxed its rules, allowing such ads to take hold. They’re unlikely ever to go away. Some estimates put the amount spent annually on DTC ads at nearly $10 billion.
Those ads are required to carry disclaimers in small print. Or they’re read at warp speed so nobody hears. “Common side effects include nausea and diarrhea, muscle ache, headache and joint pain. Rare cases of paralysis, brain disease or death have been reported.”
Dr. Abbasi offered two bits of wisdom:
1 — Consider the source. Where’s that information really coming from? You can always check with JAMA or the BMJ; but if that’s too much trouble you might just check with your own physician or healthcare provider before you listen to Dr. Oz.
2 — Follow the money. Who paid for that miracle drug, that claim, that ad?
In other words, read (or listen to) the small print before you buy. JAMA or BMJ are two good places to start; either can direct you to answers of your medical questions.
The ads promise nirvana, but failure to question can be harmful to your health.