The Celebrity Effect
Mar 01, 2018 07:00AM
Famous figures can have more sway on public health than the docs
What do Angelina Jolie, Prince Harry, and Lady Gaga all have in common? They’ve spoken up about the health issues that they’ve faced, and it’s made a world of difference in the public health realm.
When celebrities speak about health matters, the public listens—and there’s research to back that up. Take, for example, when actor Charlie Sheen was diagnosed with HIV in 2015. After his announcement, sales of at-home HIV testing kits reached record highs, according to a study published in Prevention Science. Google also saw a drastic increase—to the tune of 1.25 million people—in searches for information about the disease and prevention. Other celebrities
who have raised awareness about a disease they suffer from include:
Angelina Jolie. When the actress shared in 2013 that she was undergoing a double mastectomy to prevent breast cancer, as well as removing her ovaries and fallopian tubes in 2015, researchers found that women felt influenced to get tested for the BRCA1/BRCA2 gene. A mutation in this gene can increase the likelihood of developing breast and ovarian cancer. (It should also be noted that researchers believe this highly publicized case lead tothe overuse of genetic testing).
Lady Gaga. Just this past year, Lady Gaga was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and stepped up to raise awareness. The disease doesn’t have a strict definition—it’s characterized by widespread muscular pain—causing it to be misunderstood, underdiagnosed, or misdiagnosed as lupus or arthritis. Gaga was praised for bringing this condition to the forefront, helping patients and their doctors become more aware of its existence.
Prince Harry. After opening up about his mental health issues after the death of Harry’s mother, Princess Diana, one of Britain’s largest mental health organizations recorded a 38 percent increase in people calling for mental health evaluations and services.
Harold Allen Ramis. When this actor and director died in 2014 of vasculitis, a disorder that causes inflammation and destruction of blood cells, more people started paying attention to autoimmune disorders. A study published in Clinical Rheumatology found that Ramis’ death resulted in increased Google searches, Wikipedia page access, and Tweets on the topic.
Of course, there’s no substitute for a conversation with your personal physician. Talk to the doc about what your health history suggests when it comes to diseases that you should be concerned about—but keep your ears open to learn about new public health concerns and research them appropriately, no matter who the source.