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friday :: april 21, 2006
disease mongering: the 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.

In the opening essay, the guest 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."

New diseases are being defined, they say, by panels of specialists who are often funded by 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 health.

Eleven articles in the special issue, published to coincide with an international conference on disease-mongering at Newcastle University on 11-13 April 2006, describe different forms of disease mongering:

* Aspects of ordinary life, such as sexuality, are being medicalized and turned into illnesses. Joel Lexchin (University of Toronto) argues that Pfizer marketed Viagra 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 such as Zyprexa and Risperdal 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". The special issue, say Moynihan and Henry, is a call for the global health community to challenge this trend. Several articles outline steps that doctors, patients, governments, and the media can take to respond to disease mongering.

"Around the world, there are tentative steps to identify, understand, and combat the threat to human health from the corporate-sponsored selling of sickness," they say. "We trust this theme issue may support and augment these developments." >from *special issue of PLoS Medicine devoted to how drug companies sell sickness* April 10, 2006.

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> 'one world, one health' paradigm: emerging diseases require a global solution. june 24, 2005
> mortality before and after the 2003 invasion of iraq. november 19, 2004
> deadly medicine. november 5, 2004
> science misuse. february 24, 2004
> attacks on science: ethics and public health. january 11, 2002
> public library of science journals. a new model for scientific publishing. september 10, 2001

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