Celebrity health advice: with a grain of salt, please

January 12, 2010 by  
Filed under HEALTHCARE

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When it comes to health advice, who would you believe best? Ophra or your doctor? Apparently, for many people, the answer to this seemingly simple question is not so clear. We have seen how health campaigns use celebrities to drive home their message. We have seen how high profile cancer cases increased awareness that led to increased screening. We have seen how Michael J. Fox put Parkinson’s disease in the limelight and how Lance Armstrong helped cancer research funding. In other words, people would tend to listen more to their favourite celebrities than their doctors.

According to Dr. Aaron Carroll, director of Indiana University’s Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research.

“It helps people to realize that health problems they have affect even celebrities. Knowing that a rich and famous person can have the same problem as you or me makes it seem more fair, maybe…It also can make it easier to talk about your own problem, because a celebrity has the same issue.”

However, celebrity endorsement is not unidirectional. It can go both ways – maybe even the wrong way. A recent report in the US Today criticizes how some celebrities give medical advice without getting their facts right. In the process, they might actually put the health and life of their audiences on the line. Here are some examples of what the report referred to as “dangerous” medical advice.

Suzanne Somers, in her book Knockout

The actress Suzanne Somers has been diagnosed with breast cancer but refused chemotherapy. She considers chemotherapy as destructive and advocates instead treatments using the so-called “bioidentical hormones” which are compounds custom-mixed by special pharmacies but unapproved by the US FDA. Somers appeared on Ophra Winfrey Show to promote her book where she attacked mainstream cancer treatments and even went as far as blame chemotherapy for Patrick Swayze’s death.

According to Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American cancer Society

“I am very afraid that people are going to listen to her message and follow what she says and be harmed by it. We use current treatments because they’ve been proven to prolong life. They’ve gone through a logical, scientific method of evaluation. I don’t know if Suzanne Somers even knows there IS a logical, scientific method…There’s a tendency to oversimplify medical messages. Well, oversimplification can kill.”

Jenny McCarthy, in her books on the link between autism and vaccines

The actress Jenny McCarthy blamed childhood vaccines for her son Evan’s autism and she voiced out her opinion in several books. In her book Mother Warriors, McCarthy says she doesn’t need a scientific training to know she is right. She said she learned about autism from “the university of Google” and at home where, by observing her son she learned it all.

According to paediatrician Dr. Martin Myers, executive director of the National Network for Immunization Information:

By swaying parents to delay or reject childhood vaccines, celebrities could undermine efforts to protect newborns and other vulnerable children from devastating diseases. “I worry about these celebrities who confuse people. I don’t think they know how much damage they can cause.”

What do you think? Do you think celebrities should take more responsibility in getting the facts right speaking out? Would you follow celebrity-endorsed health advice?

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One Response to “Celebrity health advice: with a grain of salt, please”
  1. dean reinke says:

    Considering the fact that I am a stroke survivor and that medical knowledge is non-existent for recovery. i will and do definitely listen to patients because they have way more knowledge that any medical staff. It is the breakfast saying of bacon and eggs;the chicken is involved but the pig is committed. The medical staff is involved but the survivor is committed.

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