Why You Should Be Wary of Prescription Drug Ads on TV

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In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration permitted prescription drug companies to start publicizing their products directly to consumers in television advertisements. Compelled by the persuasive spots, patients petitioned their physicians for drugs to alleviate mood disorders, cardiovascular issues, and various other chronic conditions. But two studies released this year both came to a sobering conclusion about this direct-to-consumer approach: While advertising is persuasive by nature, drug spots may actually be misleading.

In a report published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine, researchers at Yale University looked at 97 drug ads that aired on television in 2015 and the first half of 2016. Most were targeted to people with arthritis, diabetes, and other ailments that require continuous care. None of them offered objective information about the potential risks of the drugs; the focus was instead on relative improvement in quality of life. In 13 percent of the ads, the drug companies suggested that various diabetes medications could be used off-label to reduce weight or lower blood pressure, a violation of FDA policy.

The spots also emphasized positive results of clinical trials. These efficacy statements dominated the narrative, with statements like “most people using [the drug] saw 75 percent clearer skin,” or “my doctor said [the drug] helps my bones get stronger.” The Yale study concluded that these and similar claims were potentially misleading and difficult to analyze objectively.

Another recent study published in the Annals of Family Medicine [PDF] examined the abundance of lifestyle depictions in the spots. Rather than dwell on risk factors, the 61 ads that researchers analyzed were predominantly made up of footage that made a direct connection between using the drug and an improved quality of life. Many of the ads were addressing conditions (like diabetes and depression) that might benefit from therapies other than medication. Roughly 59 percent of ads depicted a person losing control of their life as a result of their condition, while almost 69 percent suggested the advertised drugs enabled a more active and healthy lifestyle.

The FDA is responsible for making sure companies don't mislead consumers, but critics charge that the agency is not doing its part. It doesn't review prescription drug ads in advance, nor does it restrict ad spending. “Everyone on the ads appears healthy, happy, dancing, and they get better,” internist Andy Lazris, M.D. told Health News Review. “So people are led to believe a) the drug will be effective (which is often not the case), and b) that they should replace their old therapy with the newer one because it’s better (again, which is often not the case)."

“And if they give you any numbers at all, they’re almost always the deceptive relative numbers that look really good, not the more realistic absolute numbers," Lazris added. "So the benefits are over-exaggerated, the harms are downplayed or missed, and that’s how patients can get hurt.”

Because the spots are so short—usually 30 to 60 seconds—it’s difficult to communicate the risk-to-benefit ratio clearly. Even when ads go into a laundry list of side effects, it can become white noise compared to the happy, smiling faces appearing onscreen. (Soon, the FDA might even allow companies to shorten that list, based on its own study that found fewer mentioned side effects allow consumers to retain more information about the drug’s risks.)

The one part of the spots most critics agree is accurate? When they urge viewers to talk to their doctor. Weighing the risks and benefits of prescription medication outside of the fictional and persuasive images of drug spots is the only way to be sure a product is right for you.

[h/t Los Angeles Times]

Your Smart TV Is Vulnerable to Hackers, According to the FBI

Ahmet Yarali / iStock via Getty Images
Ahmet Yarali / iStock via Getty Images

By this point, many of us have had the experience of mentioning a product or service out loud during a conversation, only to have an ad for that very thing pop up on a smart device mere moments later. And, although you may have gotten used to the idea of your gadgets keeping tabs on you, you might not realize that your new smart TV’s monitoring capabilities make it extra vulnerable to hackers.

KATV reports that the Portland, Oregon branch of the FBI released guidelines last week as part of its “Tech Tuesday” initiative to warn people about the risk of hackers gaining access to unsecured televisions through the routers. Because smart TVs likely have microphones and even cameras, successful hackers could do anything from petty mischief to serious stalking.

“At the low end of the risk spectrum, they can change channels, play with the volume, and show your kids inappropriate videos,” the FBI says. “In a worst-case scenario, they can turn on your bedroom TV’s camera and microphone and silently cyberstalk you.”

Before you head back to Best Buy, brandishing your receipt and begging for a refund, there are a number of safety precautions you can take to make yourself less of an easy target for cyberattacks.

The first step is knowing exactly what features your TV has, and understanding how to control them—the FBI recommends doing an internet search with the model number and the words microphone, camera, and privacy.

After that, you should delve right into those security settings. Disable the collection of personal information if you can, and learn how to limit microphone and camera access. If you don’t see an option to shut off the camera, black tape over it does the trick.

And, even if it’s not the most riveting reading material, it’s worth perusing the fine print on your device and streaming services to find out what data they collect, where they store it, and how they use it.

Check out all of the tips here, and then see what other everyday objects might be susceptible to hackers.

[h/t KATV]

25 Gift Cards That Give You—and Your Recipient—the Best Bang for Your Buck

flyparade/iStock via Getty Images
flyparade/iStock via Getty Images

Though gift cards can definitely solve your annual conundrum over what to buy those hard-to-please people on your list, deciding on a gift card is the easy part—deciding which gift card to give them, however, is where the challenge comes in.

To help you narrow it down, WalletHub devised a multi-factor ranking system for gift cards of all types, from home improvement outlets like Lowe’s to subscription services like Netflix. Researchers analyzed popularity (based on search volume), average buyer’s discount across major gift card exchange sites, average resale value, retailer ratings on popular review sites, and shipping fees, and then assigned an overall score to each of America’s 100 largest retailers.

According to the study, your best option this year is a Target gift card, with an average buyer’s discount of 5.76 percent, a resale value of $77.12, and a retailer rating of 3.09 out of 5.

But before you stock up on Target gift cards for your many friends and family members, you might want to peruse the rest of WalletHub’s data. IKEA, for example, which tied for third place with Home Depot and eBay, boasts an average buyer’s discount of 10.85 percent.

The top performers from the food industry were Starbucks, Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s, and Chipotle, which all tied for fourth place (among several other companies, Netflix and iTunes included) with 50 points apiece.

Even if you’ve already decided which gift cards you’re going with this holiday season, it’s still worth looking at WalletHub’s data before you buy them to make sure you’re getting a discount comparable to (or better than) the average. And, if there’s a particularly choosy recipient on your list who’ll likely try to resell their gift card, perhaps pick one with an especially high resale value, like Costco’s $84.60 or Walmart’s $84.09.

Check out the rankings below, including overall score, and find out the full details from WalletHub’s study here.

  1. Target // Score: 70
  1. Walmart // Score: 60
  1. Sephora // Score: 60
  1. eBay // Score: 55
  1. Home Depot // Score: 55
  1. IKEA // Score: 55
  1. iTunes // Score: 50
  1. Starbucks // Score: 50
  1. Costco // Score: 50
  1. Chick-fil-A // Score: 50
  1. Netflix // Score: 50
  1. McDonald’s // Score: 50
  1. Fandango // Score: 50
  1. Chipotle // Score: 50
  1. REI // Score: 50
  1. Old Navy // Score: 50
  1. H&M // Score: 50
  1. Disney // Score: 45
  1. Google Play // Score: 45
  1. Best Buy // Score: 45
  1. Macy's // Score: 45
  1. Lowe's // Score: 45
  1. Subway // Score: 45
  1. Amazon // Score: 40
  1. Gamestop // Score: 40

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