Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Effects of Health Consciousness and Familiarity with DTCA on Perceptions of Dietary Supplements

Academic journal article The Journal of Consumer Affairs

The Effects of Health Consciousness and Familiarity with DTCA on Perceptions of Dietary Supplements

Article excerpt

This study examines the effect of consumer health-consciousness on attitude toward dietary supplements as well as consumer perceptions of supplement risks and benefits when compared to their prescription drug counterparts. The authors investigate three conditions (insomnia, depression, and high cholesterol) with both a prescription drug and dietary supplement regimen available. Results indicate that health consciousness is positively related to attitudes toward dietary supplements, which is positively related to perceived supplement benefits, but negatively associated with perceived supplement risks. Mediating effects of attitudes toward dietary supplements are also found. Moreover, familiarity with direct to consumer advertising (DTCA) moderates the relationship between health consciousness and attitude toward dietary supplements. Our findings suggest that knowledge may play a key role in attitude and perception formation and that both benefit and risk information about supplements should be provided to consumers so they can make informed decisions about their health.

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Over the past two decades, US consumers have been targeted with ever-increasing amounts of product information related to health-enhancing products and services. The broadened use of advertisements and other types of promotions in support of these offerings has drawn much greater scrutiny from a variety of regulatory, media, and consumer advocacy sources. As the level of scrutiny and content of regulatory directives differ markedly across product categories, consumers have become inundated with seemingly conflicting information about various types of healthcare goods and services. For example, consumers may be exposed to an ad touting the healthy heart benefits of MegaRed[R] Omega 3 Krill Oil on their way home from picking up a new prescription from their cardiologist for Plavix. (1) Consumers' understanding of what options may be right for their personal well-being is made even more difficult by the extensive and complicated information presented in advertisements (Weissman et al. 2004). Thus, while healthcare-related advertising can benefit consumers by creating greater awareness of various conditions and therapeutic options, the wellness and financial costs of consumer illiteracy with respect to distinguishing differences in product categories and understanding product information are also considerable (Kopp 2012).

A significant stream of academic research investigates the effects of DTCA on consumer perceptions, doctor-patient interactions, and healthcare decision-making (e.g., Hoek et al. 2011). Comparatively much less work has examined the impact of promotional practices on consumer use and perceptions of dietary supplements. Yet consumer spending on supplements grew from $11.3 billion in 2000 to more than $30 billion in 2011 (Government Accountability Office 2013). And many consumers do not discuss this use with their physicians because of fears that the doctors may discourage use of these products (Blendon et al. 2001). Hence, it is critical that researchers identify those factors that influence consumers' attitudes and perceptions of these supplements, particularly in contrast to those held toward prescription drugs.

The purpose of this study is to provide an initial assessment of the relationships between consumer health consciousness, familiarity with DTCA, attitudes toward dietary supplements, and perceptions of the relative risks and benefits of supplements as compared with their prescription drug counterparts. Health consciousness, which taps a general alertness, self-consciousness, involvement, and self-monitoring of one's health (Gould 1988), and also refers to consumer readiness to undertake health actions (Becker et al. 1977), has been found to play an important role in shaping consumers' health-related attitudes and decisions. Although health-conscious consumers may be inclined to consume supplements to enhance their diets, they are often unaware that dietary supplements receive considerably less regulatory scrutiny than prescription drugs (Quinones et al. …

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