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Originally published January 24 2008

Consumers Advocate Group Urges Ban on Marketing to Children

by Lynn Berry

(NaturalNews) The Consumers International Congress (CI) was held in Sydney at the end of October with the theme 'holding corporations to account'. Two areas of the Congress that attracted media attention were 'Obesity and Food Marketing', and 'The Ethics of the Drug Promotion'.

The Congress maintains that consumers want corporations to be accountable and responsible in the marketing of drugs to consumers and medical practitioners, and in the marketing of food products to children.

In fact according to Boyd Swinburn, Director of WHO Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention, we should not be marketing to children. Our focus should be on supporting government policy that helps to improve public health. In addition, following previous initiatives, Swinburn says we should provide support to schools in reducing junk foods and soft drinks, and look at appropriate portion sizes. These initiatives will help address obesity.

Marimuthu Nadason, president, Federation of the Malaysian Consumer Associations says Consumer International (CI) wants to end the marketing of unhealthy food to children. Because, in general, this marketing encourages unhealthy diets and physical inactivity. Much food marketing is linked to free toys, interactive websites, celebrity or cartoon endorsements, and sponsoring school activities.

The aim would be to focus on unhealthy food foods high in fat, salt and sugar. And to have independent nutritionists determine what products are healthy.

An example of misleading corporate advertising practice is Kelloggs in Mexico who was forced to remove a cereal ad that claimed children could develop skills if they ate the cereal which is high in sugar.

The speakers on the topic of The Ethics of Drug Promotion included Ray Moynihan. Moynihan, an academic and the author of Selling Sickness, claims that pharmaceutical companies take risk factors to "create diseases" and "healthy people are turned into patients". Examples of this include social anxiety disorder and female sexual dysfunction.

He is highly critical of the way pharmaceutical companies influence doctors and mentions Strivor, a drug for motivational deficiency disorder. One issue is whether this disorder is real or not. The other is when the company producing Strivor attempts to influence doctors' prescribing habits through perks such as champagne breakfasts.

Moynihan calls for new rules to stop this behaviour and said that the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) have introduced rules that require pharmaceutical companies to declare all gifts to doctors, such as overseas trips and expensive meals. A start to reigning in the influence of the drug companies.

Other countries don't have any of these rules, developing countries in particular . CI released a report documenting gifts ranging from dinners, trips, and cars that are given to doctors. An example, is a Malaysian doctor receiving over 70 gifts in a month.

This practic, according to the head of the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers, Dr. Harvey Bale, breaches the federation's own code of ethics.

Self-regulation by multinationals has been breached as well. Drug advertising by Glaxo-SmithKline, Wyeth, Novartis and Pfizer in developing countries would be cited as misleading in Europe. The report states that nearly half the medicines prescribed, dispensed or sold in developing countries are done so inappropriately.

The ethics of drug promotion are in question when incentives are given to prescribe drugs. These incentives are lavish gifts. According to the professor and chairman of the department of psychiatry at Aga Khan University, if a doctor writes 200 prescriptions of a company's high priced drug, he will get the down payment of a new car.

It has become a normal practice to pamper doctors in countries with weak regulation with the aim to get multi-million dollar profits. The director general of CI, Richard Lloyd called for a ban on all gifts to doctors.

Other issues include the marketing of drugs banned in other countries to developing countries, and the regulation of drugs when they are banned. For example, Vioxx produced by Merck for arthritis was selling in India a year after it was banned.

Also of concern are drug advertisements failing to mention the side effects or the restrictions on the use of the drug.

Other presenters on the topic of the marketing tactics of pharmaceutical companies included Ronit Ridberg, director of 'Big Bucks Big Pharma'; and Justine Cooper, creator of an exhibit about an imaginary drug to treat an imaginary disorder - see(www.havidol.com).

About the author

Lynn Berry loves good food and cooking and is passionate about nutrition and natural health care. She has a website promoting healthy eating at www.low-calorie-vegetarian-recipe.com.





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