Physician viewpoint: Health-related marketing must be held to a higher standard

Andrea Park - Print  | 

Because even clearly tongue-in-cheek advertisements for health foods and products can be mistaken for actual healthcare advice, any and all marketing for health-related goods and services must be taken extremely seriously, according to Robert Shmerling, MD.

Dr. Shmerling, clinical chief of rheumatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and an associate professor in medicine at Harvard Medical School, both in Boston, described in a new article for the Harvard Health Blog the dangers of a recently resurfaced ad for Vitamin Water.

The ad claims the flavored water offers "more vitamin C, more immunity, less snotty tissues," adding, "Flu shots are so last year." It was first released in 2011 but resurfaced in late 2019.

Though attention-grabbing, the ad is "unfortunate and potentially dangerous," according to Dr. Shmerling, who likened the seeming message that flu shots are outdated and unnecessary to ongoing vaccine misinformation campaigns. Additionally, he noted, Vitamin Water is no miracle health cure: Though vitamin-rich, the drinks also contain 26 grams of sugar.

"Marketing works. But I think health-related marketing should be held to higher standards than ads for clothes, cars, or furniture," Dr. Shmerling concluded. "Advertisers should tread carefully when it comes to well-studied treatments proven to save lives. And until influenza is eliminated as a yearly health risk, it's irresponsible and, yes, dangerous to liken flu shots to an out-of-fashion trend just to sell a sugary drink."

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