Original Research

Journal of General Internal Medicine

, Volume 28, Issue 7, pp 886-893

First online:

Direct-To-Consumer Television Advertising Exposure, Diagnosis with High Cholesterol, and Statin Use

  • Jeff NiederdeppeAffiliated withDepartment of Communication, Cornell University Email author 
  • , Sahara ByrneAffiliated withDepartment of Communication, Cornell University
  • , Rosemary J. AveryAffiliated withDepartment of Policy Analysis and Management, Cornell University
  • , Jonathan CantorAffiliated withRobert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, New York University

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While statin drugs are recommended for secondary prevention of coronary heart disease (CHD), there is no medical consensus on whether or not a statin should be added to lifestyle change efforts for primary prevention of CHD. Previous research suggests that exposure to direct-to-consumer advertising (DTCA) increases drug demand among those at comparatively low risk. Research has yet to examine whether individual-level DTCA exposure may influence statin use among men and women at high, moderate, or low risk for future cardiac events.


To determine the relationship between estimated exposure to DTCA for statin drugs and two clinical variables: diagnosis with high cholesterol and statin use.


We used logistic regression to analyze repeated cross-sectional surveys of the United States population, merged with data on the frequency of DTCA appearances on national, cable, and local television, between 2001 and 2007.


American adults (n = 106,685) aged 18 and older.


Levels of exposure to statin DTCA, based on ad appearances and TV viewing patterns; self-reports of whether or not a respondent has been diagnosed with high cholesterol, and whether or not a respondent took a statin in the past year.


Adjusting for potential confounders, we estimate that exposure to statin ads increased the odds of being diagnosed with high cholesterol by 16 to 20 %, and increased statin use by 16 to 22 %, among both men and women (p < 0.05). These associations were driven almost exclusively by men and women at low risk for future cardiac events. There was also evidence of a negative association between DTCA exposure and statin use among high-risk women (p < 0.05)


This study provides new evidence that DTCA may promote over-diagnosis of high cholesterol and over-treatment for populations where risks of statin use may outweigh potential benefits.


DTCA direct-to-consumer advertising statins cholesterol screening treatment