From Lydia Pinkham to Queen Levitra: Direct-to-consumer advertising and medicalisation

P. Conrad, V. Leiter

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    46 Citations (Scopus)


    The medicalisation of life problems has been occurring for well over a century and has increased over the past 30 years, with the engines of medicalisation shifting to biotechnology, managed care, and consumers. This paper examines one strand of medicalisation during the last century: direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) of pharmaceuticals. In particular, it examines the roles that physicians and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have played in regulating DTCA in the US. Two advertising exemplars, the late 19 century Lydia E. Pinkham's Vegetable Compound (for 'women's complaints') and contemporary Levitra (for erectile dysfunction) are used to examine the parallels between the patent medicine era and the DTCA era. DTCA re-establishes the direct and independent relationship between drug companies and consumers that existed in the late 19 century, encouraging self-diagnosis and requests for specific drugs. The extravagant claims of Lydia Pinkham's day are constrained by laws, but modern-day advertising is more subtle and sophisticated. DTCA has facilitated the impact of the pharmaceutical industry and consumers in becoming more important forces in medicalisation.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)825-838
    Number of pages14
    JournalSociology of Health and Illness
    Issue number6
    Publication statusPublished - 01 Sep 2008

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