Ever hear one of your favorite stars talking about their favorite cleanse and decided you just had to try it? Or the latest greatest diet by so-and-so the super fit super model? How about someone in the breakroom recommending something Dr. Oz said was the way to go for their health needs? You might want to think about those before you jump in and try them…
I ran across an article while researching for a class, and it reminded me of a crack I’d made to a fellow classmate who had joked about doing something Dr. Oz recommended. Might want to find someone who practices real science! But does the average consumer understand what a line they are being fed?
Too often, Hoffman says, the health practices and products endorsed by celebrities are nothing more than “health-information pollution.”
“You might think that celebrities who promote things that don’t work aren’t causing much harm, but they are,” he says. “They make people aware of things that are unhelpful and wasteful and that can negatively affect their health. They also make it harder for people to figure out what they’re actually supposed to do to be healthy.”
The author points out that celebrities have a great influence on the everyday life of the average North American consumer. While at one time, celebrities were inaccessible and remote, now with social media and the internet, they can, and do, talk about everything. When they speak, people listen to them, for better or worse. Dr Yoni Freedhoff says that it is a problem when “the medical advice offered by celebrities is more highly regard than a doctor’s professional opinion.” Not only that, but with the world wide web, what they do say lingers on and on. Ellen Raphael, of Sense About Science, which offers to coach celebrities as part of its drive to increase the public’s understanding of science, said: “People in the public eye have disproportionately “loud” voices, and with the internet misleading claims live on for a long time.
Timothy Caulfield, a professor and author, who has written a book about the phenomenon, says that it’s all about the marketing, when it comes to what the celebrities say and why they speak. And why do we listen? Because we form an attachment pattern to the faces we see so often, and are inclined to like and trust them. Even Dr. Oz, an actual medical doctor, supports theories with no scientific support, and millions flock to his recommendation. Not all celebrities are so obviously fraudulent. Glenn Close and Michael J Fox both help reputable research happen by lending their support.
We need to look for the real truth, and to learn when we should verify before we trust blindly. Anyone selling a product must be doubly suspected, and as the author points out, it would be good to learn how to look deeper than simply accepting ‘studies say.’ What studies? And what did they really say? When we look at real facts and figures, we can rely on those with decisions that can affect our health and that of our families. This does not mean going to WebMd to search symptoms or cures for what ails us. Here’s an example of a good article with solid figures and studies, and it’s also a convincing argument against wholly relying on sites like WebMd for self-diagnosis.
“The same study found 24 percent of Internet users—18 percent of adults—have read online reviews of drugs or medical treatments. And 30 percent of adults in the U.S. believe that following medical advice or health information obtained online has helped them or someone they know.3 In addition, up to 89 percent of parents search the Internet for information about their children’s health concerns.4″ However, you might want to think twice about using the Internet as your only source of health information. First of all, there’s a chance you might misdiagnose yourself. One survey of 1,000 women in Britain—conducted by Balance Activ, maker of a vaginal infection treatment—found a quarter of the respondents misdiagnosed themselves and used the wrong treatment.5″
While most will admit that when used carefully, and without relying on only one site, there are also cautions against using sources like Wikipedia. The online encyclopedia is not updated automatically when important information, like that on prescription drugs, changes.
“And the problem is that patients may not have the background or training to assess what’s good medical information and what’s not,” said study co-author John Seeger. He’s an assistant professor in the division of pharmacoepidemiology and pharmacoeconomics at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.
“So if the information they find online isn’t up-to-date, we have a real challenge,” he said.
In the end, it seems that the best solution is to spend some time and effort on educating yourself about health, and how to understand what a reliable source is, or isn’t. This is an important topic, and one worth the work, I would think. Rather than blindly following the ‘loud’ voices, seek out the truth, and be happier and safer for it.