Advertising and Our Health

Individuals are increasingly expected to take control of their health and the management of chronic conditions. Integrating prescription drugs, outpatient utilization, behaviors like diet and exercise, and the use of over-the-counter drugs and dietary supplements are part of this responsibility. Greater consumer control in decision making relies on consumers being informed about the costs and efficacy of various health inputs. In this environment, direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) plays a vital role. United States consumers are exposed to unprecedented levels of DTCA. Prescription drug DTCA reached $5.63 billion in 2015, while $850 million was spent on dietary supplement advertising.

Rosemary J. Avery, Policy Analysis and Management, and others have shown that the increase in DTCA is an important factor contributing to increases in the use of prescription drugs and dietary supplements. Less is known about how this market-driven advertising affects the totality of an individual’s allocation toward all healthcare input. DTCA might promote a culture of health and increase the likelihood of drug adherence, diet, or exercise. On the other hand, DTCA might promote potentially dangerous substitutions, as consumers are persuaded that drugs and dietary supplements can substitute for changes in lifestyle.

Avery and her team are studying how increased exposure to prescription drugs and dietary supplements via DTCA affects spillovers in the formal healthcare setting (outpatient use) and how it impacts health-related behaviors such as diet and exercise. The study will produce critical new information about the direct and indirect effects of DTCA on health and healthcare spending, which will allow policymakers to better understand both the benefits and costs associated with DTCA.

DHHS Award Number: 1R01HS025983-01

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$1.5 Million spanning 4 years