The Big Oops
The large pharmacy chain CVS made a recent mistake that earned them a tongue-lashing from eating disorder experts. The company promoted a commercial laxative product in the section of a recent advertising circular devoted to weight loss products. This particular section of the CVS advertising circular is entitled Shape Up & Save and offers savings on a variety of products that consumers may find useful as weight loss aids.
At least one eating disorder clinic deemed the inclusion of a laxative among other advertised weight loss products as the equivalent of sending, "subliminal and harmful messages to consumers."
The advertisement for MiraLAX laxative appeared alongside other advertisements for products carried by the CVS chain touted as aids for losing weight. Among the listed products were Special K cereal, Slim Shots, and Mega-T Green Tea.
Though laxatives are sold over-the-counter to consumers for the relief of constipation, these antidotes for constipation can be dangerous when abused as a tool for losing weight. This is especially true when laxatives are used by those who suffer from eating disorders, which pose a serious threat and can even be deadly. This is according to Dr. Steven Crawford, who is the associate director of Towson, Maryland's Sheppard Pratt Center for Eating Disorders.
"Laxatives are not intended, nor are they effective, for weight loss and when used for these purposes can result in serious medical consequences," comments Crawford, who issued a call for retailers to be take a closer look at the advertising they issue and to be more careful when choosing marketing strategies. "The placement of the product promotion sends the message that this dangerous behavior is acceptable and healthy."
CVS has apologized for any confusion generated by the placement of the ad for MiraLAX, but denies that the inclusion of the laxative in this particular advertisement section was purposeful or an effort to appeal to those with eating disorders to buy the product in question. The company has issued the following statement: "The health and safety of our customers is our top priority and it was not our intention to suggest that laxatives are a healthy weight loss tool. We are taking steps to ensure this does not occur again."
Crawford notes that the abuse of laxatives can lead to serious medical conditions since their overuse can cause such problems as chronic diarrhea, abnormal levels of accumulated body fluids, electrolyte imbalances, severe dehydration, and chronic constipation. Dr. Crawford also stated that, "Persistent use may result in anemia, laxative dependency, and may even increase the risk of colon cancer."