The FDA may finally start to crack down on drug advertisements

Could those slightly jarring animations of intestines dealing with diarrhoea or bees with allergies be obscuring the risky side effects of prescription drugs?

The FDA is looking into it.

In a document posted online Tuesday (and flagged by Bloomberg), the FDA outlines its plan to recruit 1,500 volunteers as part of a study aimed at finding out how cartoons in drug advertisements influence how viewers see those drugs and their risks.

The US is one of only two countries that allows pharmaceutical companies to advertise directly to consumers (New Zealand is the other outlier). While the ads help to increase the awareness of a drug, it can also put doctors in charge of prescribing them in a tough spot. That’s why in November 2015, the American Medical Association called for a ban on direct-to-consumer drug ads.

Their concern is that personifying illnesses, while it could help the viewer remember the drug, might not help them capture information like side effects associated with it.

Participants in the study will watch different commercials featuring different cartoons and human actors and answer a questionnaire.

According to data collected by Kantar Media, healthcare industry spending on ads was $14 billion in 2014, up 20% since 2011. This year, pharmaceutical ads made their way into major TV events like the Super Bowl and the Oscars. And these aren’t typically commercials for common ailments: lately the trend has skewed toward specialty drugs, like those used to treat specific cancers.

If the FDA finds that cartoons are not effective at communicating risks associated with certain drugs, the days of overactive bladders and football-playing toenail fungus during commercial breaks could be over.

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