‘Disease Mongering’

I recently read a ‘3-Minute Consult’ in Consumer Reports on Health (Oct 2012), an interview with Ray Moynihan, senior research fellow at Bond University, Queensland, Australia, co-author of Selling Sickness (New York, Nation Books, 2005).  He has helped to popularize the term ‘disease mongering’, which means literally, selling disease.  He argues that while some people say good medicine is simply making people aware of diseases, we’ve crossed a threshold, beyond prevention and into marketing:  of services, of drugs, of products that may not truly be necessary to keep people healthy or to reclaim their health.  Interesting!

One example he gives is osteopenia.  This word simply means ‘pre-osteoporosis’ and he argues that any ‘pre-‘ condition has been named mainly to get more people on board the commercial health care bandwagon.  He suggests that if osteoporosis is a risk factor for future fracture, then pre-osteoporosis means you’re at risk of being at risk of a future fracture.  Get the point?

His bottom line?  Consumers of any stripe, but particularly health-care consumers in these days, need to have a healthy skepticism before saying ‘yes’ to both a treatment and even a diagnosis.  Telling someone they’re at risk for a condition seems to be slowing too many of us down; causing us to give up instead of taking charge and making the positive changes that keep us from the threatened condition.  I say ‘Bless you, Mr. Moynihan.’

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