Health News Review

Two smart bloggers I follow both wrote recently about scare tactics that bothered them in different ad campaigns.

Marilyn Mann wrote, “Heart & Stroke Foundation ‘make death wait’ campaign: effective advocacy or unnecessary scare tactics?” She posted a TV ad, but also this print ad at left, and wrote:

“…the print ad… has appeared in a Canadian magazine.  The copy, in case you can’t make it out, reads as follows: 

Death loves menopause.  He loves that menopause makes women more vulnerable to heart disease and stroke.  And that women are far more likely to die of a heart attack.  Most of all, he loves that heart disease and stroke is the #1 killer of women.  Please donate, and make death wait.

Is this a legitimate way to “wake up” people to the threat of cardiovascular disease?  Or unnecessary and counterproductive scare tactics?  I lean toward the latter.”



Then, separately, and on a completely different topic, Laura Newman wrote on her Patient POV blog, “Health Disparities and Behavior Change:  A Plea To Stop the Attack Ads.” In it, she wrote about several ads including the one at right:

“Another NYC Department of Health spot features an obese black model with a photoshopped, amputated leg to drive home the point that, if you eat supersize portions, you could end up with diabetes and a leg amputation.”

She concludes her piece:

“Many people may think whatever it takes to get people to stop smoking, lose weight, and maintain a normal weight, it is worth it. I disagree. I’d like to see the science that backs these kinds of ad campaigns before they are disseminated any more widely. I don’t think that shaming people who smoke or eat too much for their own good is an acceptable strategy. I can’t believe that a stimulus like this is durable either. If ads like this really work and they don’t harm, researchers ought to share the data. But so far, I just hear empty claims – no outcomes data, no follow-up. If people are motivated to quit smoking or adopt a healthier data as a result of the ads, where is the data?”

Mann’s post resulted in a healthy string of comments in reaction on her blog.  Newman’s probably will, as well.  We welcome your comments below.


Ken Leebow posted on February 22, 2012 at 9:34 am

Actually, the data is that fear or death is not a very good motivator for change.

Here’s a good read … (Change or Die) …

As a sidebar, we do not have an “obesity epidemic”. You can go from a food epidemic straight to disease … no need to address obesity. That’s a diversion. Unfortunately, we love diversions.

Ken Leebow

Liz Scherer posted on February 22, 2012 at 9:38 am

Thanks for the heads up on this. I am not shocked by these tactics nor am I surprised. We have become a society that is numb to meaningful exchange so marketers resort to ads that challenge and insult. I don’t support this approach but apathy often calls for extremism. By the same token, I do believe that shock tactics need to be backed by dissemination of useful education and as Laura aptly notes, “where’s the data?” Still, responsibility starts with each and every one of us, particularly when it comes to health. Sometimes the finger pointing can be as counterproductive as the things that are being pointed to/at. Just a thought.

Marilyn Mann posted on February 22, 2012 at 10:04 am

Thanks for the mention, Gary. The folks at CardioExchange were kind enough to post my post also.