60-Second Health

TV Drug Ads May Cause Disinfo Swallowing

An analysis of TV drug ads finds that six of 10 for prescription drugs and eight of 10 for OTC drug ads are misleading. Katherine Harmon reports.

TV ads for medication are as relentless as political ads during a campaign. But surely drug ads couldn't be as disingenuous as political ads.

It's illegal for companies to make blatantly false claims about a drug. Nevertheless, a study shows that six out of 10 prescription drug ads are misleading—as were eight out of 10 ads for over-the-counter drugs.

Researchers analyzed 168 ads for medication that aired on nightly news. They assessed each commercial’s main claim. Their finding: only about a third of the ads made statements that were "objectively true." And more than half were potentially misleading, meaning they exaggerated claims, omitted important information, made unreasonable links to lifestyle improvement or conveyed opinion rather than fact. The study is in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. [Adrienne E. Faerber and David H. Kreling, Content Analysis of False and Misleading Claims in Television Advertising for Prescription and Nonprescription Drugs]

TV viewers might see as many as 30 hours of these ads each year. Perhaps the part to pay the most attention to is when they say, “Talk to your doctor."

—Katherine Harmon

[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]

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