Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Take a pill, be happy!

If you didn't blink, you might have caught media coverage of this study by Dominick Frosch and colleagues about Direct to Consumer Advertising (DTCA) of drugs. Being braver and more stoical than I, Dr. Frosch and his friends couch potatoed for two full weeks and watched all the prescription drug ads during prime time.

You know what the drug companies say -- DTCA is good for you, because it educates you about medical issues. And as we also know, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers educates your kids. Here's a sample drug ad from the report.

Using black humor, the first 2 frames show "Joe" running through the "Land of No," a grim and deserted urban setting. Joe has lost control over his cholesterol, and the narrator suggests that lifestyle changes alone are not enough to keep him healthy. In the next 2 frames, Joe visits his doctor, who welcomes him approvingly and encourages him to take rosuvastatin. In the final 2 frames, Joe leaves the doctor’s office and enters into sunny suburbia, or the "Land of Success," where his smiling neighbor waves as he walks home to enjoy a picnic with his smiling family.

They have a lot of facts and figures about the content of these ads, and they generally prove that the educational value is negative. The FDA requires the ads to have what the researchers call "rational content," because they have to discuss side effects. But like the car ads that say "80% of Toadmobiles sold since 1995 are still on the road," the rational content is only truthy. (Think about it. What does this really say about the average life span of a Toadmobile?)

Anyway, car ads seldom rely on those kinds of appeals. Instead they tell you that if you buy a Toadmobile, women will fall to their knees and beg you to ravish them. Drug ads work the same way. Take the pill, and you'll feel in control, you'll associate with beautiful people, you'll be respected in the community, you'll enter a wondrous land of enchantment and delight. And as far as keeping yourself healthy by eating right and keeping fit -- well, that can't possibly work.

Can we please ban this crap?

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