Study finds most TV prescription drug ads minimize risk information

January 3, 2008

Prescription drug ads on television first hit the airwaves just over a decade ago, but a new University of Georgia study finds that most of them still do not present a fair balance of information, especially when it comes to the risk of side effects.

A team led by Wendy Macias, associate professor in the UGA Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, analyzed a week’s worth of direct-to-consumer ads on broadcast and cable television. The found that the average 60-second ad contained less than 8 seconds (13 percent of total ad time) of side effect disclaimers, while the average 30-second ad has less than 4.4 seconds (15 percent of total ad time) of disclaimers. Most of the 15-second ads studied devoted no time at all to disclaimers.

“These ads clearly don’t devote enough time to information about risk,” said Macias, whose results appear in the November/December issue of the journal Health Communication. “Adding to the problem is that the information is often presented in a way that people aren’t likely to comprehend or even pay attention to.”

Macias and her team, which includes Kartik Pashupati at Southern Methodist University and Liza Lewis at The University of Texas at Austin, found that almost all of the ads disclosed side effects solely in a voice-over portion of the ad. Only 2.2 percent of ads had the disclosure in voice-over as well as in text form.

The 1997 FDA guidelines that allowed drug companies to greatly expand the scope of their direct-to-consumer advertising required the companies to “present a fair balance between information about effectiveness and information about risk.”

Fair balance is not defined by the FDA, so Macias created a four-tiered classification: 1.) Lawbreakers are ads that don’t mention side effects at all; 2.) bare minimums are those that list side effects but spend less than 10 percent of time on risk information; 3.) the main pack includes ads that spend more than 10 percent of time on risk information, and 4.) the proactive, safety oriented approach, which gives equal treatment to both the risks and the benefits of the drug.

The researchers found that two percent of the ads studied were clear lawbreakers, 10 percent met bare minimum requirements and 88 percent were in the main pack. The researchers analyzed commercials that aired in 2003, but Macias said current ads are similar in their content and leave much to be desired.

“Very few advertisers are really doing well enough when it comes to actually trying to educate the consumer,” she said. “The ads are presented in such a way that the consumer would have to be paying very close attention and be adept at processing the information to really understand the risks as well as the benefits.”

Proponents of direct-to-consumer ads argue that they help raise awareness of various medical conditions and their treatments. Critics argue that the ads drive up health care costs by steering consumers to costly drugs that they might not need. Still, Nielsen Media Research estimates that pharmaceutical companies spent more than $1.5 billion on direct-to-consumer television ads during the first half of 2007.

Macias said most ads could clearly do more to educate consumers, and points to recent advertisements for Johnson and Johnson’s Ortho Evra® birth control patch that give equal emphasis to the risks and benefits of the drug as an example of a more balanced approach.

“A prescription drug is something that consumers should be making a rational decision about,” Macias said. “And the more information consumers have, the better decisions they can make.”


Source: University of Georgia

Explore further: How a seahorse-shaped brain structure may help us recognize others

Related Stories

How a seahorse-shaped brain structure may help us recognize others

December 8, 2017
How do we recognize others? How do we know friend from foe, threat from reward? How does the brain compute the multitude of cues telling us that Susan is not Erica even though they look alike? The complexity of social interactions—human ...

Airline food study provides travelers with the best in-flight food choices

December 7, 2017
There will more than 51 million passengers traveling during this holiday season  (Dec. 15th -Jan 4th) according to trade group Airlines for America . Knowing what are the "best" and "worst" choices is a valuable tool for ...

Philippines plans to sue Sanofi over dengue vaccine: minister (Update)

December 7, 2017
The Philippines intends to sue Sanofi after authorities suspended the pharmaceutical giant's anti-dengue vaccine in response to the company warning the drug could lead to severe infections in some cases, the health secretary ...

Aging with an intellectual disability—new longitudinal report

December 7, 2017
Increased rates of important health screenings and access to GPs amongst people with an intellectual disability have been highlighted in a new report launched this week. These health gains, however, are potentially being ...

Most people in favour of screening for spinal muscular atrophy

December 5, 2017
Research from the University of Warwick indicates that most people are in favour of newborn screening for the potentially deadly condition spinal muscular atrophy (SMA). The study Newborn genetic screening for spinal muscular ...

New imaging study reveals how saturated fatty acids damage cells

December 2, 2017
In our increasingly health-conscious society, a new fad diet seems to pop up every few years. Atkins, Zone, Ketogenic, Vegetarian, Vegan, South Beach, Raw - with so many choices and scientific evidence to back each, it's ...

Recommended for you

FDA's program to speed up drug approval shaved nearly a year off the process

December 7, 2017
Speeding the pace at which potentially lifesaving drugs are brought to market was a rallying cry for Donald Trump as a candidate, and is a stated priority of his Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. Scott Gottlieb. ...

Dangers of commonly prescribed painkillers highlighted in study

December 6, 2017
Commonly prescribed painkillers need to be given for shorter periods of time to reduce the risk of obesity and sleep deprivation, a new study has revealed.

Viagra goes generic: Pfizer to launch own little white pill

December 6, 2017
The little blue pill that's helped millions of men in the bedroom is turning white. Drugmaker Pfizer is launching its own cheaper generic version of Viagra rather than lose most sales when the impotence pill gets its first ...

Surgery-related opioid doses can drop dramatically without affecting patients' pain

December 6, 2017
Some surgeons might be able to prescribe a third of opioid painkiller pills that they currently give patients, and not affect their level of post-surgery pain control, a new study suggests.

Four-fold jump in deaths in opioid-driven hospitalizations

December 4, 2017
People who end up in the hospital due to an opioid-related condition are four times more likely to die now than they were in 2000, according to research led by Harvard Medical School and published in the December issue of ...

Researchers identify information gaps about opioid antidote naloxone

November 27, 2017
The nation's opioid epidemic kills 91 people a day, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The death toll would be even higher, were it not for emergency responders' heavy reliance on naloxone as ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.