Before May of this year, chances are you never seriously considered what you'd do if you found out you had an 87 percent risk of developing breast cancer. But then Angelina Jolie discovered she did (thanks to a faulty BRCA1 gene) and wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about her ensuing decision to get a double mastectomy. Suddenly, it was a huge topic of conversation. But are we just interested in stars' health issues the same way we're interested in their relationshipsÃ¢â‚¬”or are they actually influencing our medical choices? According to a new paper published in BMJ, it's probably the latter.
Why that's scary: Celebrities have been known to dole out different medical info than doctors, such as when Jenny McCarthy said vaccines cause autism or when TV broadcaster Sir Michael Parkinson said that, "If you can pee against a wall from two feet, you haven't got it [prostate cancer]."
For the paper, researchers from McMaster University in Canada looked at a range of prior studies about celebrities' influence on others. They didn't focus solely on medical research but instead examined a broader scope of economics, marketing, psychology, and sociology studies to get a sense for the mechanism through which celebrities may shape people's health decisions.
Researchers found lots of reasons that they say might explain why people are likely to follow stars' health advice: For example, it's easy to start associating your favorite celeb's suggestions with the traits you like about him or her, which makes you more likely to take them to heart. Another theory is that the stars' medical recommendations get a lot of coverage in various media (including on this site), which makes it easier to spread among social networks and have a greater impact on people.
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The important thing to keep in mind? There are a lot of reasons that we may be encouraged to listen to health tips when they come from a celebÃ¢â‚¬”and that's definitely not always a bad thing. But at the end of the day, stars aren't medical experts, even if they have breast cancer or managed to lose a ton of weight (or are personally dealing with some other issue on which they're giving advice). That's why it's important to run any medical tips they're volunteering by your doctor before you actually put it into practice. It never hurts to open up a conversation, and that's something celebrities are great for when it comes to your healthÃ¢â‚¬”sparking discussion.
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