Health Information in the Age of Celebrity Culture
Celebrities are everywhere. They peek out from magazine covers in the supermarket check-out, they take up space in the newspaper, and permeate the television news. We live in a culture of celebrity.
When celebrities choose to use the spotlight to bring attention to health issues, there is no denying their power, and their ability to do good.
What do you know about Parkinson’s disease aside from what you’ve learned from Michael J. Fox? He stunned his fans when he went public with his diagnosis in 1998. Many of us didn’t think it could happen to such a young man, so we paid attention and learned. Through the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, he has raised awareness… and millions of dollars toward research of this degenerative neurological disorder.
The same can be said of Montel Williams and the Montel Williams MS (multiple sclerosis) Foundation, and the late Christopher Reeve and the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation.
In death, Michael Jackson, Heath Ledger, and Elvis Presley are but a few of the celebrities who have brought attention to the problem of prescription drug abuse but, sadly, have had little impact.
When celebrities delve into the role of health advocate, they bring immediate and compelling attention to their cause of choice, particularly if they have a personal connection. They put a human face — a well-known human face — on a disease or disability. They make us pay attention.
On the other hand, celebrity endorsements of pharmaceuticals and other health products, from herbal supplements to diet plans, can’t be taken at face value. Championing a cause is one thing — endorsing powerful medications in exchange for a fee is quite another. The power of celebrity can so easily be misused.
Celebrities have every right to get paid for their work, but the public also has the right to know, perhaps even the responsibility to find out if the spokesperson has been paid to endorse the product. Absent a medical degree, a celebrity spokesperson is no better resource for medical information than your next door neighbor.
We live in a celebrity culture, but when it comes to matters of health, the power of celebrity is a double-edged sword.
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