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corporate sponsored creation of disease
The corporate sponsored creation of disease--"disease mongering"-- turns healthy people into patients, wastes precious resources, and
causes iatrogenic harm, say the guest editors of a special
issue of PLoS Medicine devoted to
how drug companies sell sickness.
editors, Australian journalist Ray Moynihan and clinical
pharmacologist David Henry (Newcastle University,
Australia), define disease mongering as "the selling of sickness that
widens the boundaries of illness and grows the markets
for those who sell and deliver treatments."
diseases are being defined, they say, by panels of
specialists who are often funded by the drugs
industry. Such diseases are then promoted by
industry-sponsored "disease-awareness campaigns,"
usually designed to sell drugs rather than inform
the public about preventing illness or maintaining
in the special issue describe different forms of disease
* Aspects of ordinary life, such as sexuality, are being
medicalized and turned into illnesses. Joel Lexchin
(University of Toronto) argues that a drug was marketed
not just for treating erectile dysfunction due to medical
problems like diabetes, but as a drug that "normal" men
could use to enhance their potency.
* Mild problems, such as everyday irritability in
children, are portrayed as serious illnesses needing
powerful drugs. David Healy (University of Wales) looks at
how companies are "selling" bipolar disorder, leading to a
surge of diagnoses of bipolar disorder in American children, some as young as two.
"Drugs ... are now being used for preschoolers in America
with little questioning of this development," he says.
* Health problems are routinely being framed as extremely
common. Steven Woloshin and Lisa Schwartz (Dartmouth
Medical School) analyze the news coverage of a
little-known condition called "restless legs syndrome," a
compelling urge to move one's legs. The authors found that
the media exaggerated the prevalence of the condition and
the need for treatment, and failed to consider the
problems of over-diagnosis.
A recent Reuters Business Insight report on so-called
lifestyle drugs stated starkly: "the
coming years will bear greater witness to the
corporate sponsored creation of disease".
"Around the world, there are
tentative steps to identify, understand, and combat
the threat to human health from the
corporate-sponsored selling of sickness,"
1) Moynihan R, Henry D
(2006) The fight against disease mongering:
Generating knowledge for action. PLoS Med 3(4):
2) Lexchin J (2006) Bigger and better: How Pfizer
redefined erectile dysfunction. PLoS Med 3(4):
3) Phillips CB (2006) Medicine goes to school:
Teachers as sickness brokers for ADHD. PLoS Med
4) Tiefer L (2006) Female sexual dysfunction: A case
study of disease mongering and activist resistance.
PLoS Med 3(4): e178.
5) Healy D (2006) The latest mania: Selling bipolar
disorder. PLoS Med 3(4): e185.
6) Applbaum K (2006) Pharmaceutical marketing and the
invention of the medical consumer. PLoS Med 3(4):
7) Heath I (2006) Combating disease mongering: Daunting
but nonetheless essential. PLoS Med 3(4): e146.
8) Woloshin S, Schwartz LM (2006) Giving legs to
restless legs: A case study of how the media helps make
people sick. PLoS Med 3(4): e170.
9) Maggini M, Vanacore N, Raschetti R (2006)
Cholinesterase inhibitors: Drugs looking for a disease?
PLoS Med 3(4): e140.
10) Mintzes B (2006) Disease mongering in drug
promotion: Do governments have a regulatory role?
PLoS Med 3(4): e198.
11) Kumar CJ, Deoker A, Kumar A, Kumar A, Hegde BM (2006)
Awareness and attitudes about disease mongering among
medical and pharmaceutical students. PLoS Med 3(4):
Psychotropic drug prescriptions:
Therapeutic advances or fads? Painkillers, Drug
Addiction. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental
The Uneasy Link Between Money and Medicine