Celebrity health news has big effect on public's behavior
When a big-name celebrity, such as Angelina Jolie, shares personal information about a health issue, it can have a significant impact on the general public’s awareness and behavior, concludes a study by a team of British researchers. They specifically focused on Jolie’s 2013 announcement that because of her BRCA1 gene mutation, she decided to have a double mastectomy to reduce her chances of developing breast cancer.
The researchers, led by Gareth Evans of Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention and St. Mary’s Hospital in the U.K., analyzed data from 12 breast cancer family history clinics and nine regional genetic testing centers in the UK from 2012-13. They found that in June and July 2013 - immediately after Jolie’s announcement - referrals for genetic testing increased 2.5-fold compared with the same period in 2012–from 1,981 to 4,847. A twofold increase continued until October 2013, after which time genetic testing referrals began to drop.
The team notes that a similar pattern was seen in Australia after news broke about singer Kylie Minogue’s breast cancer diagnosis. This led to a 40 percent increase in breast cancer screening. And in 1987, Nancy Reagan’s decision not to undergo breast-conserving surgery led to a 25 percent increase in mastectomies in the US.
The team concluded that health news about a celebrity could have an impact on the general public’s behavior for at least six months.