The 131st Annual Meeting (November 15-19, 2003) of APHA

The 131st Annual Meeting (November 15-19, 2003) of APHA

3244.0: Monday, November 17, 2003 - 12:30 PM

Abstract #59918

DES: A Cautionary Tale in the Era of Direct-to-Consumer Advertising

Nora M. Cody, MA, DES Action USA, 610 16th Street, Suite 301, Oakland, CA 94612, 510-465-4011,

DES has been called the worst public health disaster in U.S. history. Prescribed to an estimated 4.8 million pregnant women from 1941-1971, DES was never adequately tested for either efficacy or safety, and the tragic results are now well known.

The DES experience continues to inform us, both through ongoing scientific research and important lessons for public health workers and health care professionals. My presentation will discuss the relevance of DES as a cautionary tale in today’s advertising climate, where consumers are bombarded with pharmaceutical advertising. What if DES had been marketed directly to consumers? One 1957 ad (published in a medical journal for physicians) recommended DESPlex “for routine prophylaxis for all pregnancies” and promised “bigger and stronger babies, too.”

Using the DES example, I will also address the role of the Precautionary Principle in the work of DES Action and other consumer health organizations. The basic idea of the precautionary principle is that before imposing significant risks to health and/or the environment on others or society as a whole, and when there is evidence of potential harm, those introducing the risk must prove safety. This principle offers a positive alternative model to the current practice of perpetuating damaging behaviors until irreversible harm has already occurred.

At the end of this session, participants will understand: (1) the lesson of DES in relationship to direct to consumer advertising; (2) the possibilities for coalition building among responsible public health activists and (3) the role of the Precautionary Principle in public health.

Learning Objectives:

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

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The 131st Annual Meeting (November 15-19, 2003) of APHA