Prurient interest in the lives of prominent persons flourished long before the electronic age. However, intimate details about the lives of celebrities now go viral in an explosive e-minute.
The implicit challenge posed by the article by Ayers et al1 in this issue of JAMA Internal Medicine, about Charlie Sheen’s announcement that he is human immunodeficiency virus–positive, is how to take advantage of such moments to educate the public about health issues. This news not only caused people to read news articles about Sheen but also prompted them to perform Internet searches concerning human immunodeficiency virus testing and symptoms.
The job of public health is to be certain that the right information is easily available when people seek it. People need to know where to go to obtain the services they need in the language they speak in the community in which they live. Health educators have long known the importance of context and opportunity: an episode of bronchitis is a good moment to address smoking cessation; an attack of chest pain is the right time to talk about obesity. We can provide more effective messages about public health if we adapt traditional methods of health education to our increasingly social media–driven world and make sure the messages are available in advance of the next celebrity disclosure.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: None reported.
Katz MH. Adapting Health Education for the Internet Age. JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(4):554-555. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.0007