Lifestyle changes should come before reaching for unnecessary medicine

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People with stubbornly unhealthy lifestyles are more likely to buy into medical marketing for drugs they don't really need, a New Zealand-led study has found. Direct-to-consumer advertising - allowed for prescription drugs only in the US and New Zealand - is contributing to the overuse and misuse of medicine for conditions that could otherwise be improved by exercising, eating healthier, and cutting back on alcohol consumption, the researchers say. They call for regulatory changes regarding advertising of medicines and want to see lifestyle changes advertised as potential substitutes for the advertised medicines.

Journal/conference: Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health

DOI: 10.1111/1753-6405.12883

Organisation/s: University of Otago, University of Limerick, Ireland

Media release


Objective: Direct-to-consumer advertising of prescription medicines encourages individuals to search for or request advertised medicines, can stimulate taking medications rather than making lifestyle behaviour changes, and may target individuals with poorer demographic and socioeconomic status and riskier health-related behaviours. This study thus explored whether responses to medicine advertising vary as a function of lifestyle behaviours, and demographic and socioeconomic factors.

Methods: Data were collected through an online survey of a nationally representative sample of 2,057 adults in New Zealand. Multivariate binary logistic regressions were used to explore whether lifestyle behaviours, including nutritional habits, alcohol consumption, illegal drug consumption, physical activity, attitudes towards doing exercise, as well as demographic and socioeconomic status were associated with self-reported behavioural responses to medicine advertising.

Results: Individuals who had unhealthier lifestyle behaviours were more likely to respond to medicine advertising.

Conclusions: The findings raise concerns regarding the misuse or overuse of medications for diseases that may otherwise be improved by a healthier lifestyle.

Implications for public health: To improve public health and wellbeing of society, we call for regulatory changes regarding advertising of medicines. Where applicable, lifestyle changes should be advertised as potential substitutes for the advertised medicines. Interprofessional collaboration is also recommended to educate individuals and convey the value of health behaviour changes.

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New Zealand

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