Oprah Winfrey

Why Are We So Ready to Put Faith in Celebrity Health Guidance?

Oprah Winfrey says “Obesity is a disease. It’s not about willpower – it’s about the brain.” This tidbit from a recent interview with People magazine is great. It’s accurate and it corrects a common misconception. No doubt, it will bring a shift away from flawed thinking about this condition that many people have been hanging onto. In the flawed realm of celebrity health guidance, this one bit is better than most.

But when we look at all the misinformation and miscues that come from others – and even from Oprah at times – we have to wonder. Why is the public so ready to put faith in celebrity health guidance?

Take It with a Grain of Salt

The fact is that we rarely get unvarnished truth about health from celebrities. They are experts in presenting themselves to the public. They’re usually also experts in their chosen field – like acting in the case of Oprah. But they are not experts in health and medical science.

So when Oprah tells People that she took an obesity medicine to cope with Thanksgiving – “because I knew I was going to have two solid weeks of eating” – we need to take it with a grain of salt. These medicines are not designed for short-term use to prevent holiday weight gain. Obesity is a disease that is chronic and short-term therapy for a long-term problem typically does not work.

From Shaky to Awful

Of course, there are celebrities who dispense a preponderance of misinformation. Gwyneth Paltrow built a $250 million business by monetizing outrageous health claims. Her company, Goop, will sell you a jade egg for your vagina, even after the company agreed to pay a $145,000 fine for false advertising about this and other products they sell.

Timothy Caulfield is author of The Science of Celebrity . . . or Is Gwyneth Paltrow Wrong About Everything? He explains the influence of this bunk:

“Never has celebrity culture played such a dominant role in so many aspects of our lives. As we will see, it has a measurable influence on individual health care decisions, on the things we do to stay healthy, on how we view ourselves physically, on the material goods we want to possess, and on our future career aspirations.”

Find a Health Professional You Can Trust

We have a simplistic response to celebrity health guidance. Opt out by finding a trustworthy primary care provider. They’re out there, ready to actually help.

We agree with Professor Arch Manious, who tells us this is where we should look for good health advice:

“Famous figures have plenty of advice to share about healthcare nowadays – advice that is often readily accepted and followed by the general public. In the age of ubiquitous celebrity influencers, we need to look to our doctors, not our favorite media personalities, when it comes to serious health matters.”

Good health advice from a trustworthy professional is a gift that keeps on giving.

For perspective on why we trust flawed celebrity health guidance, click here.

Oprah Winfrey receives 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom, photograph by Lawrence Jackson / Wikimedia Commons

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December 24, 2023

2 Responses to “Why Are We So Ready to Put Faith in Celebrity Health Guidance?”

  1. December 24, 2023 at 9:46 am, David Brown said:

    Clearly, those so-called trustworthy professionals know how to treat obesity but not how to prevent it. The problem lies in the fact that virtually all physicians acquire a mental model in school that precludes any consideration that what they believe might be incorrect. A case in point is the American Heart Association’s recommendation to reduce saturated fat intake and increase linoleic acid intake to reduce risk of heart attack. (web search – ASBMB An Essential Debate) To learn why that sort of dietary advice is counter productive, do these web searches: Glen D. Lawrence saturated fat, Vijay P. Singh saturated fat, Jeff Volek saturated fat, Bergen University saturated fat, Annadie Krygsman importance of dietary fatty acid profile.

    • December 24, 2023 at 12:24 pm, Ted said:

      David, your comment misrepresents the view of the AHA:
      “Despite theoretical concerns regarding omega-6 PUFA and inflammation and oxidative stress, there are no compelling epidemiologic or clinical trial data to suggest that omega-6 PUFA are proatherogenic. The cardioprotection debate lies in how much omega-6 PUFA should be consumed in relation to omega-3 PUFA. Expert opinion has ranged widely…”

      This is a subject where there is not a simple, definitive answer as you suggest.