Celebrity Health Advice

Is it ever Ok to take Health Advice From A Celebrity?

Maybe you didn’t even personally read the latest celebrity health claim. A friend referenced it in passing on social media – and perhaps your friend didn’t tell you where he or she heard that advice. Or you simply noticed increasing buzz surrounding the topic, more momentum to undergo a health screening, to not vaccinate a child, to steam clean –what?

In the disorienting collision between the fast and furious Information Age and frighteningly complex, ever-evolving 21st century health care, many are at a loss to determine what’s best for their health. With no way to possibly process all the disparate, frequently changing messages, experts say passionate accounts from public figures – celebrities – cut through much of the noise and communicate clearly, where health providers often don’t. “I think the crux of much of this problem is that U.S. adults have very low health literacy,” says Dr. Shelly Campo, an associate professor of community and behavioral health at the University of Iowa, with expertise in health communication. “We don’t have a lot of background in science and math and health science,” she says – or a strong grasp of other subjects that would better help us make sense of the whirring medical world. “At the same time, we’ve got an unbelievably complicated health system.”

So we take shortcuts – often unwittingly, unknowingly and even necessarily. And Americans aren’t alone in doing so, says Steven Hoffman, an associate professor of law at the University of Ottawa in Ottawa, Ontario, and associate professor of clinical epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.

There’s the still widely touted “Katie Couric effect” that led to a bump in Americans seeking colonoscopies immediately after the TV journalist televised her own screening for colon cancer in 2003. Just as singer-songwriter Kylie Minogue’s now decade-old announcement that she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer sharply increased mammogram bookings right afterward in several Australia states. And today, “Whenever Dr. Oz recommends something on his TV show to his 4 million American viewers, people immediately search it on Google and sales of those products skyrocket in stores,” says Hoffman, who has studied why celebrities – who, more often, don’t have MDs – affect people’s health decisions. “There have been studies looking at the effects of Jenny McCarthy – [where] people have cited her as a reason for why they don’t vaccinate their children.” Despite subsequent research debunking a purported link between vaccines and autism, the strong anti-vaccine stance of the model, TV host and actress still holds sway.