Flip over the calender. October to November. Breast cancer awareness month morphs into Movember – the global publicity campaign subtitled “Changing the Face of Men’s Health.”
The prominent publicity stunt is to have men grow facial hair to support – well, to support what exactly?
The Movember website points to these “partners and programs we fund” –
Best known of these may be the Livestrong Foundation, from which Lance Armstrong yesterday “severed all formal ties.”
Some news organizations are crossing the line from independent “journalism” into advocacy in support of this campaign.
Where I live, WCCO – the CBS station – has happy faces trying to grow hair in support. The station’s website states:
WCCO-TV has decided to help support the Movember movement to raise awareness of prostate cancer and other cancers affecting men. Several men from the WCCO-TV newsroom have volunteered to grow mustaches this month in support of the cause… Find out how you can help us raise both awareness as well as funds for prostate cancer research.
So members of the “editorial” staff are becoming public fundraisers for this cause? Hmm.
These are just a few of the issues on the slippery slope of journalist endorsement of causes.
Not everyone sees this is an innocuous, harmless, helpful campaign.
UK physician Margaret McCartney blogged, “The problems with Movember.” She questions some of the evidence behind some of the screening and checkup information/advice promoted by the Movember campaign. Excerpt:
“I urge Movember to pull their health check ups page, use evidence based advice, and concentrate on some of the real unmet health needs of men – what about suicide, alcohol, and car crashes, for example. Not as sexy as proactive (unnecessary and potentially harmful) health checkups – but likely to be of far greater benefit if properly addressed.”
The campaign also leads to media misinformation. Case in point: A Huffinton Post piece, “Prostate Cancer Research: 10 Things We’ve Learned So Far This Year.” Some of the 10 items they posted show no grasp of the evidence, including items on the benefits of PSA testing and on the benefits of green tea.
Google search results show Movember spawning many free prostate cancer screenings, which Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society has addressed:
“We’re very concerned about a number of clinics that are offering mass screening where informed decision making – where a man gets told the truth about screening and is allowed without pressure to make a decision – that’s not happening. Many of these free screening things, by the way, are designed more to get patients for hospitals and clinics and doctors than they are to benefit the patients. That’s a huge ethical issue that needs to be addressed.”
Brawley went on to say something that we echo as our own sentiment:
“We’re not against prostate cancer screening. We’re against a man being duped and deceived into getting prostate cancer screening.”
Oftentimes, anyone who raises any questions about evidence, any concerns about the imbalance in broad, generalized health awareness campaigns, faces accusations of being “against” screening, “against” caring for someone’s health, etc. Let’s put that to rest. As Brawley suggested, one can raise these questions and simply be FOR more complete, balanced information.
Some health awareness campaigns – while well-intentioned – get lost in their unfocused pursuit of publicity.
Only 17 more days till December.