In the News, Mass Media

I’m not a diabetic. I just play one on TV.

This week MyHealthNewsDaily had a blog post about how experts agree that it is unethical to cast actors in health communication campaigns. Recent examples include claiming to have diabetes and Photoshopping an able person into an amputee.

Health communication campaigns are successful because the audience can connect with the person in the ad. The audience member realizes that he’s not so different from the person in the ad–that his diabetes could also lead to an amputation–so maybe the viewer should start eating and exercising better to get his diabetes under control and avoid a possible amputation. However, if the audience member knows, or even suspects, that the person in the ad is an actor paid to pretend that he suffers from the affliction, then the ad is rendered powerless. The audience member won’t connect with the person and probably wouldn’t even consider changing his behavior. After all, if they had to Photoshop an amputation and couldn’t even find a real person with a type II diabetes-caused amputation, then what are the chances that his diabetes will lead to an amputation?

I don’t think using actors or Photoshop in a health communication campaign is a good idea, especially when there are so many real people out there who could be recruited to tell their stories. These real stories are undoubtedly more emotional and more powerful than anything scripted. It just makes more sense to use real people because the product would be better.

Do you agree with this? Do you think there are circumstances where it is okay to use actors in health communication campaigns?

Photo courtesy of DUCKMARX on Flickr