With all the ads out there for new medicines and treatments, how can I tell which ones are safe for my child?
One challenge of parenting is sorting through all available information about children's health. Commercials and magazine ads claim products help and heal. Web sites claim to have "cutting-edge" health information. TV programs and newspapers report on the "latest" studies showing which treatments work and don't work.
So how can you make sense of the messages?
The Language of Advertisers
Advertisers try many ways to get you to buy the products they are selling. They may use certain words or phrases to interest you, such as
- "#1 Pediatrician Recommended" or "Doctor Recommended". These are marketing terms that try to get you to buy a product. Although the product may be recommended by a group of doctors, what the advertisers don't tell you is how many doctors or how long ago the recommendation was made. It could be 5 or 100 doctors surveyed 10 years ago.
- "Patented Design". A patent means that the maker or inventor of a product has proven to the government that he or she was the first to create the product. In return, the government gives a patent and says that only the patent holder can make or sell the product for a certain period. A patent doesn't necessarily mean that the product is the best, is safe, or will work.
- "Clinically Shown". This phrase means that the product was tested on patients as part of a study to see if the product worked. There are many ways to conduct studies. However, if the people doing the study don't follow strict scientific rules for doing research, the study results may have little meaning.
Questioning Your Sources
It's important to ask the following questions when evaluating a source:
1. What is the source?
In general, sources you can trust include accredited medical schools, government agencies, professional medical associations, and recognized national disorder/disease-specific organizations. However, don't rely mainly on the name of the organization—do your own research.
2. Who is the expert?
The doctors or researchers being interviewed may sound like experts, but what are their credentials? What expertise and experience do they have? They may be doctors, but are they experts on the particular issue being talked about? Are there conflicts of interest? Are they working for a company that may benefit from their "expert" support? Are they being paid for their support of a product? If so, this could influence what information these experts choose to share.
3. What are the facts?
Know the difference between preliminary and confirmed findings—a "breakthrough" finding may seem promising but still has to be replicated and reviewed over time. Don't let a headline make you think that "new study" is the same as "proven." Another word of caution: "new" doesn't mean improved. Sometimes newer medicines are not an improvement over older medicines and cost much more.
Evaluating New Treatments or Medicines
When you come across a new treatment or medicine, ask yourself the following questions:
1. Will it work for my child?
Be suspicious if the information describing the treatment or medicine:
- Claims it will work for everyone.
- Uses a story about one person's experience or testimonials as proof that it works.
- Cites only one study as proof.
- Cites a study without a control (comparison) group.
2. How safe is it?
Be suspicious if the treatment or medicine:
- Comes without directions for proper use.
- Doesn't list contents or ingredients.
- Has no information or warnings about side effects.
- Is described as "harmless" or "natural." Remember, most medication is made from natural sources. A "natural" treatment doesn't necessarily work and, worse yet, actually may be harmful to your child. Being "natural" does not necessarily mean it is good or safe.
- Isn't approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
- Appears on an infomercial.
3. How is it promoted?
Be suspicious if the ad for the treatment or medicine:
- Claims it's based on a secret formula.
- Claims it works immediately and permanently.
- Claims it's a "miraculous" or an "amazing" breakthrough.
- Claims it is a "cure."
- Indicates it's available from only one source.
You shouldn't trust everything that you read or hear. Make sure that your pediatrician knows about your questions and concerns; share the information you've found. You and your pediatrician are partners in your child's health.