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Can celebrities contribute to public health?

News: Jun 30, 2017

The success of attempts to raise public awareness on health issues might hinge less on what is said and more on who is saying it. In studies published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine and Prevention Sceince, American scientists found that Charlie Sheen unwittingly prompted a massive spike in HIV awareness when he in late 2015 revealed that he was HIV positive. Following the announcement, American news coverage on HIV increased by 265 per cent, and the usual number of Internet searches for HIV-related topics was suddenly boosted by about 2.75 million. Not only that, the self-administered home test Oraquick, the only one of its kind in the US, saw its sales nearly double, and maintaining very high numbers over a four-week period. Most notably, this kind of impact is completely unparalleled by traditional awareness efforts; sales on the day of Sheen’s disclosure were nearly eightfold those of World AIDS Day, one of the longest-running HIV prevention campaigns. The effect was temporary; Internet searches reverted to normal levels after three days, test sales after four weeks.

The fast information flow via social media and smartphones enabled this whirlwind effect, but how could Sheen wield such influence? Other celebrity announcements have previously had similar effects, for example Angelina Jolie with breast cancer. Nanna Gillberg, expert on celebrity culture at the University of Gothenburg, explains that it might be a question of identity, where our perceived personal relationship to the celebrity make us feel that their diagnosis is meaningful and relevant to us. This relationship dynamic is especially prominent in today’s celebrity culture where celebrities often trade on their own personalities, creating their own brand. Furthermore, she acknowledges that while celebrities with physical conditions may contribute temporarily to prevention and intervention, celebrities with psychiatric diagnoses might have more lasting impact in changing attitudes by serving as public faces for their respective conditions.

Here is a link to the article

BY: Theo Gillberg

Page Manager: Anna Spyrou|Last update: 2/20/2019

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