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PJ Online | News: Disease mongering is a marketing ploy

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The Pharmaceutical Journal
Vol 268 No 7194 p521-527
20 April 2002

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Disease mongering is a marketing ploy

Health professionals are among those who should move away from using corporately funded information about medical conditions. Independent and accessible materials should be generated, say the authors of an article on "disease mongering" published in the BMJ last week.

Disease mongering is defined as the practice by which the boundaries of treatable illness are widened to extend the markets for new medicinal products. Pharmaceutical companies can succeed in making healthy people feel sick by sponsoring particular diseases and promoting them to prescribers and consumers, the authors say. By doing this, they can increase sales of new drugs.

Disease mongering can take many forms including turning ordinary ailments into medical problems, regarding mild symptoms as serious, treating personal problems as medical, seeing risks as diseases, and framing prevalence estimates to maximise potential markets. The authors cite hair loss and social phobia as conditions promoted as diseases by pharmaceutical companies.

They say that alliances between pharmaceutical companies, doctors and consumer groups have formed in many disease categories. This results in "disease awareness" campaigns in which these alliances promote their particular disease as serious, widespread and treatable. The media are targeted with stories that are designed to induce fear about the condition and give information about the latest treatments. "Company sponsored advisory boards provide the 'independent experts' for these stories, consumer groups provide the 'victims', and public relations companies provide the media with a positive spin about the latest 'breakthrough' medications," say the authors.

The public are entitled to know about the controversy that surrounds disease definitions and the self-limiting nature of many ailments, they add (2002;324:886).

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