Celebrities and health: The good, the bad, and the ugly (BMJ video)

The influence of celebrity status is a deeply rooted process that can be harnessed for good or abused for harm. Just a few examples:

- When journalist Katie Couric televised her colonoscopy on NBC’s Today Show in 2000, colorectal cancer screenings by 400 American endoscopists increased by 21% the next month.

- Following actor-singer Kylie Minogue’s diagnosis of breast cancer, bookings for mammograms rose by 40% in four Australian states.

- Many celebrities have mobilized their influence for good. Actor Michael J Fox’s foundation has raised over $350m for research into Parkinson’s disease, whereas singer Sir Elton John’s charity has raised more than $300m towards research into HIV/AIDS.

- British television presenter Sir Michael Parkinson promoted an unsupported self diagnosis technique for prostate cancer based on his own experiences: “The test is if you can pee against a wall from two feet, you haven’t got it.”

A better understanding of celebrity can empower health professionals to take this phenomenon seriously and use patient encounters to educate the public about sources of health information and their trustworthiness.

People are trusting celebrities with their health. Public health authorities could implement regulations and restrictions on celebrity endorsements and design counter marketing initiatives—perhaps even partnering with celebrities—to discredit bogus medical advice while promoting evidence based practices.


Following celebrities’ medical advice: meta-narrative analysis. BMJ 2013; 347 doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1136/bmj.f7151 (Published 17 December 2013), Cite this as: BMJ 2013;347:f7151

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