Disease mongering

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Disease mongering is a pejorative term for the practice of widening the diagnostic boundaries of illnesses, and promoting public awareness of such, in order to expand the markets for those who sell and deliver treatments, which may include pharmaceutical companies, physicians, and other professional or consumer organizations.[1] Examples include male pattern baldness, cellulite, and certain social phobias.[1]


The term "war mongering", referring to the inherent conflict of interest of the arms industry and military–industrial complex in which encouraging human conflict may be profitable, had long been part of the public consciousness when the term "disease mongering" was first used in 1992 by health writer Lynn Payer, who applied it to the Listerine mouthwash campaign against the disease halitosis.[2] Payer defined disease mongering as a treatment which includes the following practices:

  • stating that normal human experiences are abnormal and in need of treatment[2]
  • recognizing suffering which is not present[2]
  • defining a disease such that a large number of people have it[2]
  • defining a disease's cause as some ambiguous deficiency or hormonal imbalance[2]
  • associating a disease with a public relations spin campaign[2]
  • directing the framing of public discussion of a disease[2]
  • intentionally misusing statistics to exaggerate treatment benefits[2]
  • setting a dubious clinical endpoint in research[2]
  • advertising a treatment as without side effect[2]
  • advertising a common symptom as a serious disease[2]

Instances of disease mongering and spectrum of agreement[edit]

Selling topical creams to "cure" cellulite is an instance that most people without a conflict of interest (unlike the creams' makers and sellers) agree is disease mongering.

The extent to which the medical model properly applies to mental health is a less clear-cut instance. It is widely accepted that the model is appropriate for severe mental disorders, but determining the limits of its applicability is subjective. In discussions specifically about psychiatric diagnosis, the mongering label is frequently used by proponents of the antipsychiatry movement,[3] and Scientology-based critics[4] as just one part of their criticism of psychiatry or specifically biopsychiatry. Examples include ADHD and bipolar disorder.[5] Even people who are not especially averse to psychiatry on the medical model may feel that it is difficult to determine the dividing line between normal behavioral variants and diagnoses needing treatment when it comes to matters such as attention and mood.

Some might argue that the pharmaceutical industry is only providing the public with information about its options and that actual prescription is a matter to be discussed between patient and doctor. Opponents, however, claim that this approach leads to the unnecessary prescription of drugs, that its motivation is primarily or solely to profit the drug companies, and that it may actually harm instead of help patients.[1]

A 2006 Newcastle, New South Wales international conference, reported in PLoS Medicine, explored the phenomenon of disease mongering.[6] Journalist Ray Moynihan satirised disease mongering in a BMJ "news" item that appeared in its April Fool's Day edition 2006, titled "Scientists find new disease: motivational deficiency disorder".[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Moynihan R, Heath I, Henry D (2002). "Selling sickness: the pharmaceutical industry and disease mongering". BMJ 324 (7342): 886–91. doi:10.1136/bmj.324.7342.886. PMC 1122833. PMID 11950740. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Dossey, L (2006). "Listerine's long shadow: Disease mongering and the selling of sickness". Explore 2 (5): 379–85. doi:10.1016/j.explore.2006.06.005. PMID 16979097. , citing
    • Payer, Lynn (1992). Disease-mongers : how doctors, drug companies, and insurers are making you feel sick. New York: J. Wiley. ISBN 978-0471543855. 
  3. ^ Fred Baughman (2000-09-25). "The Rise and Fall of ADD/ADHD". ICSPP. Retrieved 2007-06-03. 
  4. ^ Stephen Barlas and Psychiatric Times staff (2006-04-16). "Psychiatric Profession Current Target of Citizens Commission on Human Rights". CCHR. Retrieved 2007-06-03. 
  5. ^ Healy D (2006). "The latest mania: selling bipolar disorder". PLoS Med. 3 (4): e185. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030185. PMC 1434505. PMID 16597178. 
  6. ^ Moynihan R, Henry D (eds). "A Collection of Articles on Disease Mongering.". PLoS medicine, 2006. Retrieved 2007-06-12. 
  7. ^ Moynihan R (2006). "Scientists find new disease: motivational deficiency disorder". BMJ 332 (7544): p. 745. doi:10.1136/bmj.332.7544.745-a. "[Neurologist Leth Argos and a team...] at the University of Newcastle in Australia say that in severe cases motivational deficiency disorder can be fatal, because the condition reduces the motivation to breathe." 

Further reading[edit]

  • Moynihan, Ray; Henry, David (2006). "The Fight against Disease Mongering: Generating Knowledge for Action". PLoS Medicine 3 (4): e191. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0030191. PMC 1434508. PMID 16597180. 
  • Saddichha, Sahoo (2010). "Disease Mongering in Psychiatry: Is It Fact or Fiction?". World Medical & Health Policy 2: 260. doi:10.2202/1948-4682.1042. 
  • Peter Conrad (2007), The Medicalization of Society: On the Transformation of Human Conditions into Treatable Disorders, Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Payer, Lynn (1992). Disease-mongers : how doctors, drug companies, and insurers are making you feel sick. New York: J. Wiley. ISBN 978-0471543855. 
  • Moynihan, Ray; Alan Cassels (2005). Selling sickness: How the world's biggest pharmaceutical companies are turning us all into patients. New York: Nation Books. ISBN 1-56025-697-4. 
  • Cassels, Alan (2007). The ABCs of Disease Mongering: An Epidemic in 26 Letters. Victoria, British Columbia, Canada: EmDash Publishing. ISBN 978-0-9780182-3-8. 
  • Melody Petersen (2008), Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs.
  • Christopher Lane (2008), Shyness: How Normal Behavior Became a Sickness.

External links[edit]