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How Much Does Advertising Influence Your Views About Health and Illness? Part One

Most people have learned what they know about health and illness from a variety of sources. They learn from personal experience, from friends and relatives, from the family doctor, from newspaper articles, from Internet, from radio and television programs, from government publicity and health education material and from advertising. Advertising is probably our biggest source of information. But how reliable is this information? And who controls it?

How Much Does Advertising Influence Your Views about Health and Illness? Part One

 

By Mr Ghaz, December 4, 2009

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How Much Does Advertising Influence Your Views about Health and Illness? Part One

We all know a lot about health and illness. But where does our information come from? How much of it is fact?

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The Role of Advertising

How do you know when you are unwell? How do you know what to do about it? Most people have learned what they know about health and illness from a variety of sources. They learn from personal experience, from friends and relatives, from the family doctor, from newspaper articles, from Internet, from radio and television programs, from government publicity and health education material and from advertising. Advertising is probably our biggest source of information. But how reliable is this information? And who controls it?

The Effect on You

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How much does advertising influence your views about health and illness? Try this activity to find out. Take a magazine and a newspaper and look through them for the advertisements. Don’t bother with the small ads, just read the big, obvious ones. First of all work out roughly how many of the advertisements relate to health and well-being or illness. Is it about half or much more than this? If you happen to be watching TV or visiting the cinema you could also note how many of the commercials relate to health or illness.

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For each advertisement think about which fears and weaknesses the advertisers are trying to exploit. Do some advertisements work by trying to scare you with images of overweight adults, sick children, tense nervous housewives or bored and dissatisfied husbands? Do others claim to make you and your family healthy, beautiful, successful and loved if you use their products? Even the cigarette and alcohol advertisements, which may encourage you to do things which are bad for your health, are promoted with healthy images such as young, beautiful people leading energetic lives in glorious countryside.

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Many advertisements try to mystify you with the technical details of their products. They feature men in white coats making scientific-sounding statements and saying that doctors or dentists recommend their brand.

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Finally, make a note of how many different brands of pain killers, indigestion tablets, tonics, cough mixtures, toothpastes, breakfast cereals containing roughage, margarine’s and cooking oils, glucose drinks or vitamins you come across. The more brands of each product there are, the more claims each advertiser must make to encourage you to buy his product, not someone else’s.

The world Health Organization said in 1968, ‘Human beings have always been searching for the magic cure to their ills and it is very easy for an advertiser or charlatan to take advantage of human credibility’.

Selling Medicines

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Even in this country, where there are standards of advertising practice and certain controls, we still find that health is used as a selling point by advertisers. One survey showed that 70 to 80 out of every 100 advertisements related to health in one way or another.

Much of our health information comes from advertisements for drugs and food. We have come to associate getting better or keeping well with taking or using something bought or prescribed. It is not in the manufacturer’s interest to remind us that taking nothing could work just as well. Many advertisements are aimed at people who suffer from constipation or mild complaints such as colds and coughs which soon clear up by themselves.

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Similarly, clever advertising is aimed at sufferers of chronic ailments who will try anything because doctors have not been able to cure them. This can something induce such strong faith in a drug that a cure is brought about by the power of suggestion alone.

This is known as the ‘placebo’ effect. (Placebos are pills which are made sugar instead of active drugs. They are used in research to help test whether a new drug is effective.)

Selling Foods

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Our fears about our health are exploited not just by advertisers of drugs but also by manufacturers and advertisers of food. The manufacturers of cooking oils and margarine have traded heavily on our worries about the causes of heart disease. There is still uncertainty on this issue, but this is not apparent from a reading of the advertisements which extol the virtues of butter and cream, regardless of the high animal fat content. Advertisements for glucose drinks also play on our fears about being ill and lacking in energy. Such drinks are expensive and converted into glucose in our bodies.

Advertising to Doctors

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Even doctors are not immune from the powers of advertising. In fact, a great deal of advertising is directed solely at them. The American general practitioner receives about one hundredweight of advertising literature and assorted gifts every month.

There is one drug company sales representative for every eight general practitioners. The doctors also see advertisements in free medical papers and other journals and may be invited to see educational films, with lunch and drinks thrown in, and to attend conferences at the expense of particular drug companies.

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Your busy doctor very often has little option but to rely on drug companies for his information about new drugs. The drug companies exploit his lack of knowledge in order to sell him their particular (and often more expensive) brand of medicines.

They also exploit his feeling of helplessness when confronted by a patient whose problem he either hasn’t the time for or can’t solve. Prescriptions for drugs which change your mood now account for one in live of all NHS dispensed prescriptions. Their effect, in dulling anxiety and therefore making bad social or economic conditions bearable, is promoted by advertisements.

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Perhaps you might think that the excessive influence of advertising is due to the lack of any information (from government sources etc) which could counter or compete with the advertisers claims? It is true that information that comes from one source only is often suspect, but let us take a look at the job government agencies are doing in this country to control advertising.

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  1. Interesting points…and so true.

  2. very good detailed article. I think we are some what brain washed by all the advertising thats for sure.

  3. very true

  4. The article was very interesting, made a lot of key points and the next time I read a magazine, I will look for these things. thanks for sharing.

  5. a very good presentation, when I read on, I imagine myself attending a health talk. Very professional, Mr Ghaz!

  6. This was a great read, full of thoughtful insights

  7. Of course, advertising does affect. Great insight, thanks!

  8. I really enjoyed this. Thank you!!

  9. Very interesting!

  10. Great article

  11. I once worked for an advertising company that created diseases to go with drugs. Most of the diseases advertised on tv, especially for psychiatric drugs, do not exist. Depression is a normal part of life, yet the addicting drugs prescribed for it are a trillion dollar business. Once a person starts on those drugs it is doubtful they will be able to stop without either committing suicide or going on a rampage (VA Tech).

    Excellent and much needed article.

  12. Very good points made. I am lucky in that I seem to be able to completely ignore adverts!

  13. I was too close to the industry. Advertising has no influence on my health choices whatever.

  14. Well you have done it again a brill post great read, very nice work from you.

  15. Very interesting post here. Photos are very expressive too!!

  16. as always very interesting to read your article,Thanks :)

  17. Good stuff… sorry guys, my website had a problem yesterday about the html code and all of your article links there had erase. Please send again your links there. Just click the “ADD LINKS” at the left side of my homepage. http://www.articlespost.page.tl

  18. Very true. Good article.

  19. So very true, I enjoyed reading this article very much.

  20. Your points are really true… :)

  21. Excellent. All these drug commercials in the United States have turned millions into hypochondriacs. “See your doctor,” they urge – and get him or her to write a prescription for their latest drug! They feed on people’s fears. Car insurance is another, as they exploit the “what ifs” mercilessly.

  22. Another well-written piece…very informative article and very useful tips. Thanks Mr Ghaz! well done!

  23. Very interesting topic, so true,,keep on writing my friend..wonderful infos and tips Thank you

  24. Very good work, I totally agree with you. the biggest source of health informations came from an advertisements. well done Mr Ghaz!

  25. As always cool article with great photos. Keep them coming, pal.

  26. good job. well presented article.

  27. Nice article. But impact diminished considerably by the ad content surrounding it on this site.

    There are few commercial-free zones for discussions about health matters.

  28. Well written my friend. Another in depth post.

  29. Great article Mr G. Very informative.

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