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Direct to consumer advertising is medicalising normal human experienceAgainst

BMJ 2002; 324 doi: (Published 13 April 2002) Cite this as: BMJ 2002;324:910

Direct to consumer advertising is medicalising normal human experience

In direct to consumer advertising, drug companies target advertisements for prescription drugs directly at the public. Barbara Mintzes argues that this type of advertising risks medicalising normal human conditions, with the drug companies raking in increasingly healthy profits. Silvia N Bonaccorso and Jeffrey L Sturchio argue that, through advertising, drug companies can enable patients to make better informed choices about their health and treatment


  1. Silvia N Bonaccorso, vice president, marketing and medical services (,
  2. Jeffrey L Sturchio, executive director, public affairs (Europe, Middle East, Africa)
  1. Merck, One Merck Drive, Whitehouse Station, NJ 08889-1000, USA
  1. Correspondence to: S N Bonaccorso

    Medicalisation refers to the theory that people seek to categorise life's normal vicissitudes as medical problems. The term is also used in medical sociology, to suggest that those with a pecuniary or territorial interest in ill health—not least doctors and the pharmaceutical industry—try to foster exaggerated anxiety about disease and potential disease, so as to encourage essentially healthy people to seek unnecessary medical products and services. 1 2 In this latter sense “medicalisation” has become a theory of social control and has been used as an argument against direct to consumer communication by pharmaceutical companies.

    The health deficit

    In stark contrast to these theoretical constructs, epidemiological evidence shows a substantial under-diagnosis of many of the major diseases and known risk factors for which effective treatments exist (hypertension, hyperlipidaemia, diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, and childhood asthma). Even after diagnosis, these diseases are massively undertreated.3 4 This failure to treat—together with non-compliance (estimated as some 50% for prescribed medicines across all the major chronic diseases)—leads to a considerable …

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