Dartmouth College helps in a study that finds most drug ads could be misleading
The study, conducted by Dartmouth researcher Adrienne E. Faerber and David H. Kreling of The University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Pharmacy, was recently published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine.
The idea for the study came out of a 15-year debate among policymakers and researchers who wondered whether television ads were more persuasion than information. To underscore the relationship between advertising and pharmaceutical companies, the researchers pointed out that in 2009, these companies spent $4.8 billion on advertising. In comparison, only $3 billion was spent that year on nonprescription products.
In all, the researchers had trained analysts look at 168 TV advertisements for prescription and over-the-counter drugs broadcast between 2008 and 2010. Their job was to identify statements that were strongly emphasized in the ad and then decide if those claims were truthful, potentially misleading or false.
At the end of the study, they found all-out falsehoods in prescription drug commercials happened only one in 10 times, likely because false advertising is illegal. However, potentially misleading claims occurred six out of 10 times. These are described by researchers as, “claims (that) left out important information, exaggerated information, provided opinions, or made meaningless associations with lifestyles.”
Commercials for over-the-counter drugs played a little more fast and loose with the truth, according to the research. In those ads, eight of 10 claims were misleading or false.
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