Fitness Files: Pushing pills for profit, not health

"Stay out of my bedroom!" I yell at the TV set, as an ad suggests another erectile dysfunction helper.

"Hey, menopause isn't a disease, get it?" I scream at the ad hawking a pill to extinguish hot flashes.

"Oh really!" I fume. "If I take your little cholesterol drug, I will be pretty as a model and run around in a meadow with exploding butterflies! What a crock of..."

About this time, my husband is doing his own yelling. "Turn that thing off if it makes you so mad!"

"Yeah," I yell back, "and guess what? They're telling us exact symptoms to describe to the doctor so he'll give us a prescription that will make us dizzy, dry-mouthed and constipated so we have to take something else! And, by the way, how much do you think they pay people to compose glamour names for drugs?"

My husband closes the door.

In 2010, Bentley University professor Dhaval Dave pinpointed the price of the ads that irritate me: "As a result of changes in regulation in the late 1990s, spending on direct-to-consumer advertising of pharmaceutical drugs in the U.S. leapt from $150 million in 1993 to $4.24 billion in 2005."

He says the average American television viewer spends as much as "16 hours per year watching such ads."

Why do those ads make me mad? Everybody's on statins. My doctor says her patients could shed 5 to 10 pounds and lower cholesterol. Why take a pill that may cause muscle aches, forgetfulness or a tendency toward diabetes? The long list of side effects, spoken in a monotone at the end of the ads, requires more medications and reduced participation in an active life.

And about those loss-of-libido ads that make maturity a disease: They suggest every man can stay 25 with a pill. Personally, I prefer men whose hormonal arc contributes to their measured judgment and moderated good will. Let the 25-year-olds crash around in football games, fast cars and martial arts. Give me the guy who's past proving himself with hard muscles and organs.

I'm not anti-medicine. I sprint to the medicine cabinet if I'm sick or can't stretch my way out of a backache, but those occasions are rare. I feel lucky to live at a time when medicine rids infections, manages chronic diseases and cures some cancers.

I respect the rigors of bringing a drug to market and thank the researchers who discovered the cures and the pharmaceutical companies that paid for the discovery and approval processes.

However, I question the introduction of the profit motive into diagnosis and prescription. I'm hugely hostile when I hear advertisers create diseases out of normal life phases. I think it's unethical to encourage the use of chemicals for aging instead of for illness. I'm uncomfortable with the coercion created by advertising medicine to a public that needs to hear more about healthy living than about drugs sold like cosmetics.

And that is why I yell at the television.

Newport Beach resident CARRIE LUGER SLAYBACK is a retired teacher who ran the Los Angeles Marathon at age 70, winning first place in her age group. Her blog is

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