Marketing treats risk factors as diseases

Maryann Napoli writes in the American Journal of Nursing that “in the name of prevention, millions of Americans have accepted the idea that it’s reasonable to treat a risk factor such as bone loss or high cholesterol as if it were a disease.”

X-ray of part of a spine

Napoli zeroes in on low bone density, a risk factor for hip fractures that, through careful marketing, promotion of regular screenings and celebrity endorsements — all funded by a major pharmaceutical corporation — has been inflated into a disease that has sold millions of dollars worth of bone-density drugs. All this despite the fact that the affect of the drugs in prevention of hip fractures is minimal at best.

According to Napoli, “consumer advocate Barbara Mintzes summed up the situation nicely: “Bone mineral density testing is a poor predictor of future fractures but an excellent predictor of start of drug use.””

More people should question the wisdom of starting long-term drug therapy. Often the magnitude of the risk factor has been overestimated, or the danger of the disease itself exaggerated, by people trying to sell you something —like a drug you must take for the rest of your life.

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