Posted by Gary Schwitzer in Disease mongering
Almost as if the American Heart Association felt it must compete for some of the pinkwashing attention given breast cancer in October, it presents its “Go Red for Women” campaign with the message, “Make it your mission to fight heart disease in women.”
As with so many disease awareness campaigns, this is, at its conceptual core, a noble goal.
But as with so many disease awareness campaigns, it is the framing of the message that can be problematic.
AHA features a video of actress Elizabeth Banks – who some online sources say is 37 years old in real life – having a heart attack. Many TV viewers may associate her most recently as being of childbearing age after her pregnant portrayal on NBC’s “30 Rock.”
Why would the American Heart Association choose to profile such a young actress in its featured video?
We went to the Risk Assessment Tool for Estimating 10-year Risk of Developing Hard CHD (Myocardial Infarction and Coronary Death) of the National Cholesterol Education Program of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. We entered the following data points for Ms. Banks’ character in the video. (Let’s not quibble about the numbers we pulled out of thin air. The video gave us no details about the hypothetical character it chose to feature. If anything, we chose some risk numbers that were worse than what would be supported by anything in the video.)
Total cholesterdol 250 mg/dL
HDL cholesterol: 25 mg/dL
Systolic blood pressure: 170 (unmedicated)
So what is this hypothetical character’s 10 year risk of having a heart attack?
Should the American Heart Association choose to feature – for all women to see – someone who – at worst – has a 2% risk over the next 10 years of having a heart attack?
We could debate that for a long time. But we think it’s disease-mongering. They could have made the point every bit as effectively by featuring a more representative/realistic demographic in an equally appealing and humorous leading lady.
Heart disease in women is a very important problem – one that often doesn’t receive enough attention. But why not give it proper attention? Not presenting an unrepresentative risk profile as the featured case study in a featured video.
Note that the department store Macy’s and the drugmaker Merck are key sponsors of the campaign. Both would love to reach a younger female demographic with their “Go Red” (see green $$$) support of this campaign. Macy’s would love the shoppers. Merck would love the heart drug business.
There seems to be no end to the disease awareness disease-mongering.