In one of the more questionable aspects of being a health reporter, I frequently report on diseases and health conditions that transform into hot news stories simply because they’re linked to a celebrity diagnosis.
So, do celebrity-centered health campaigns yield a net benefit or net risk to our health? That’s a tough call, and two public health experts took opposing sides in opinion papers published in the latest issue of the British Medical Journal.
Simon Chapman, a public health professor at the University of Sidney in Australia, argued that critics “hone in on celebrity endorsement of flaky complementary medicine or quack diets . . . but they are silent about the many examples of celebrity engagement that have massively amplified . . . news coverage about important neglected problems.”
Geof Rayner, an honorary research fellow at Britain’s City University London, disagreed that celebrity campaigns delivered long-term gains for public health “for the logical reason,” he wrote, “that celebrity status is fleeting.” While acknowledging that celebrities can provide a short-term boost to issues — like the campaign of TV chef Jamie Oliver
to improve school lunches — they “tread a cautious path of support because of the risk that the celebrity becomes the story, not the campaign.”