Celebrities can be bad for your health
Jenny McCarthy is vocal critic of childhood vaccines, placing blame for her son’s autism on his vaccinations.
June 7th, 2012
03:57 PM ET

Celebrities can be bad for your health

Dr. Anthony Youn is a plastic surgeon in metro Detroit. He is the author of “In Stitches,” a humorous memoir about growing up Asian-American and becoming a doctor.

Two days ago, I saw a commercial for Jenny McCarthy’s show, “Love in the Wild.” I suspect that I’m not the only physician who’s happy to see her host this dating program.

It’s a better alternative than the role she’s held for the past several years: health care adviser.

For years, celebrities have acted as health advocates in the media. Most have limited themselves to pitching products. Wilford Brimley, a diabetic, acted as a spokesperson for Liberty Medical and their at-home diabetes treatments. Larry King has publicly endorsed Garlique, a garlic supplement that could help people with high cholesterol. More recently, soap star Lisa Rinna has endorsed Depends adult undergarments, even wearing them on the red carpet for charity.

Some celebs have stepped beyond product pitching to use their influence to promote health care research. Michael J. Fox has done wonders for encouraging new treatments for Parkinson’s disease. The late Christopher and Dana Reeve brought spinal cord injury research into the national spotlight. And who hasn’t worn a yellow Livestrong bracelet, promoted by Lance Armstrong as a way to help fund cancer studies?

Although these celebrities should be praised for their health care advocacy, others have used their influence to promote highly questionable medical theories.

Suzanne Somers has written more than 19 books on health, beauty and wellness. One of the most popular, "Ageless," promoted bioidentical hormones. But according to Dr. Margery Gass, director of the University Hospital Menopause and Osteoporosis Center in Cincinnati, “There’s absolutely no sound evidence that [bioidentical hormones] are any safer or more effective,” than traditional hormone therapy. In fact, these products, which are typically made in compounding pharmacies or derived from plants, have been described as "potentially dangerous" by the Food and Drug Administration.

And who can forget Tom Cruise’s bizarre anti-psychiatry rant on the "Today" show? While physicians readily admit that we don’t know exactly why certain psychiatric treatments work, patients’ symptoms are undeniably improved by them.

Arguably the worst cases of celebrities as health advocates involve those who promote a link between autism and childhood vaccines.

Some pediatricians are blaming the recent increase in vaccine-preventable diseases on parents opting out of vaccinations for their children. Many of these parents have been influenced by anti-vaccine celebrities. A University of Michigan survey found 24% of Americans place “some trust” in the information provided by celebrities on vaccine safety.

McCarthy has been the most vocal critic of childhood vaccines, placing blame for her son’s autism on his vaccinations. Since 2007, she’s appeared on numerous programs, including "Oprah," making claims about vaccines and autism that aren’t supported by peer-reviewed, scientific research.

One study she has cited, Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s landmark 1998 Lancet article, has since been thoroughly discredited and retracted.

So where are we now?

Vaccine-preventable childhood diseases are making a comeback. In 2010, nearly 10,000 cases of pertussis, or whooping cough, were diagnosed in California, the most since 1940. In 2011, the number of measles cases in the United States reached a 15-year high.  California is now taking matters into its own hands. State Assemblyman Richard Pan, a doctor, recently introduced a bill that would require parents to get counseling from a doctor before opting out of immunizations for their children.

As celebrities continue to exert their influence on the perceptions and beliefs of Americans, physicians are finding that we have to spend more and more time with our patients correcting misinformation.

I hope that bills like the one introduced in California cause celebrities take their influence seriously. With great power and influence comes great responsibility.

The opinions in this commentary are solely those of Dr. Anthony Youn.

soundoff (148 Responses)
  1. luvy

    ~Age is just a number for us , My husband and i both think so..
    He is almost 11year older than me .i met him via ~【boomermingle.℃om 】
    I don't blame Jenny McCarthy for any of this, it's the idiotic parents that take her word as "sound" medical advice. Both my kids were vaccinated around the same time this all came to a head and I did a little research, talked to our Peditrician and got them vaccinated, it's called parenting. Anyone that allows a celebrities ideals and teachings guide their medical choices, shouldn't be having children.

    June 7, 2012 at 22:22 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Tendofreak

      If one doesnt want their child vaccineated than they should be home schooled. They should NOT be let into the general population of public schooling. Just because they take risks with their childs health by not taking vaccines to prevent disease, does not mean then they have the right to pass on these communicable diseases to my child.

      June 8, 2012 at 14:22 | Report abuse |
    • Dee

      What about formula feeding mothers? Now that's taking unnecessary risk with your child's health. What about feeding kids a lifetime of junk starting from birth and increasing their risk of cancers, diabetes, obesity, and death?

      And yes, my child has received all his vaccines, but I've always thought formula fed babies should be banned from public areas. But that's politically incorrect to say isn't it? Let's victimize the parents who are trying to do the best for their kids by thinking vaccines are harmful, but pacify formula feeders who don't want to put forth the effort to give their innocent baby the best start on life. As long as they vaccinate right?

      June 9, 2012 at 05:34 | Report abuse |
    • Cassie

      Dee, you have got to be kidding me. What about people who can't breast feed for one reason or another, on their part or their baby's?

      I'll give you that feeding a child a steady diet of junk food is not in the best interest of their health, but I think that not vaccinating your child and subjecting him or her to dangerous, contagious diseases is a whole lot more serious than formula feeding.

      Calling for a ban on formula fed babies isn't "politically incorrect," it just makes you sound out of touch with reality.

      June 9, 2012 at 13:22 | Report abuse |
    • twointwoyears

      Dee, I'll remember that the next time I have a child and can't breast feed. That double mastectomy set me back.

      June 9, 2012 at 22:57 | Report abuse |
    • Kris

      Wow Dee, you are a moron. How on earth can you compare not vaccinating your kids with formula feeding? Are you really that stupid and uneducated? You should not be allowed to have kids. Ignorance breeds ignorance!

      June 10, 2012 at 23:03 | Report abuse |
  2. heather

    Finally!!! I loved this article by an actual doctor! I have been a special education teacher for 18 years and I would cringe every time Jenny McCarthy was interviewed and people treated her as if she was a specialist in the field of autism. Yes, she's a specialist of knowing her son, but has she worked with children with ASD for 20 years? has she researched genetics in a family? also, many of these kids are misdiagnosed. I believe because of her celebrity influence, she has kept families from getting vaccinated which is a growing problem. thank you for this article!

    June 7, 2012 at 22:54 | Report abuse | Reply
    • donna

      You make it sound like this plastic surgeon is the first MD to write an article about autism and vaccines...

      June 8, 2012 at 01:01 | Report abuse |
    • MiddleMan

      I agree Heather – it was very refreshing to see this article. Many doctors have written articles like this, but the mainstream media has been sensationalizing the Jenny McCarthys of the world and not the rational people who are trying to prevent the vaccine-preventable diseases from coming back.
      Thanks for helping all those with special needs! It takes a special person to do that work.

      June 8, 2012 at 16:12 | Report abuse |
  3. guest

    Actual Doctor? He's a plastic surgeon giving advice on vaccinations. That's almost as annoying as a chiropractor doing the same.

    June 8, 2012 at 00:48 | Report abuse | Reply
    • slugqueen

      You missed the point of the article. The article wasn't about Jenny McCarthy and autism- it used her as an example of celebrities giving medical advice- that was what the article was about. And this plastic surgeon is right- we should be listening to people like McCarthy. We should be talking with and listening to people who actually know what they're talking about. I wouldn't take Jenny McCarthy's medical advice any more than I would get marriage advice from Mel Gibson.

      June 8, 2012 at 06:05 | Report abuse |
    • gggg

      You do realize there is no special short cut path through the medical learning process for plastic surgeons, right? They go to medical school, do residencies (including in pediatrics) and then choose a specialty (after med school, not during). That would suggest that he would know at least how vaccines work, don't you think? Don't get me wrong, I won't be going to him for heart surgery. But I would think he would have to know enough about infectious disease to realize when it is doing something to one of his patients. Last, to be fair, he's not saying he's the be all and end all in medical advice. He's just questioning why people would listen to celebrities for advice, especially given the number that have not even been to college of any sort. Last I checked, high school biology does not make one an expert on vaccines.

      June 8, 2012 at 08:55 | Report abuse |
    • WhatNow

      Let's see, to become a plastic surgeon you need 4 yrs of college, 4 years of medical school, 5 to 7 years of surgery residency and 2 to 4 years of plastic surgery fellowship. I think I would tend to believe the medical doctor before the chiropractor or the TV star. He was simply trying to educate the general public on who to go to for medical advice.

      June 8, 2012 at 09:01 | Report abuse |
    • Martina

      FYI. To become a plastic surgeon or a neurosurgeon, you have to be the best of the best in med school. This guy probably knows more than most family doctors do. Go back into your cave.

      June 11, 2012 at 01:12 | Report abuse |
  4. Tony

    haha, a plastic surgeon giving health advice just great, what's next the neighborhood drug dealer giving addiction counseling? do you realize that a court recently reinstated the medical licence of professor john walker-smith one of the co-authors of the Lancet study, and found that the charges we're false?

    June 8, 2012 at 02:36 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Billy

      Wakefield was not exonerated. This decision has no bearing on the discreditation of this paper.

      June 8, 2012 at 06:23 | Report abuse |
    • WhatNow

      Apparently, you do not know how much medical training it takes to become a plastic surgeon and sorry, Wakefield is a discredited physician and has not been exonerated. As for Walker-Smith, he has been judged an unknowing accomplish to the Wakefield fiasco. Wakefield was just a resource for lawyers and his fraudulent research remains discredited.

      June 8, 2012 at 09:10 | Report abuse |
  5. ccharles825


    June 8, 2012 at 07:43 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. rusty gunn

    Medical researchers have repeatedly failed to find a direct link between celebrities and intelligence.

    June 8, 2012 at 09:18 | Report abuse | Reply
    • P.J.

      Best comment on this article. That goes for politics and any other important topic.

      June 10, 2012 at 08:31 | Report abuse |
  7. Ethics Board

    Suzanne Somers is another nut job. She supports Dr. Burzynski who injects urine derivatives into children with cancer for a "cure". I have personally seen 5 children become critically ill from this "cure".

    June 8, 2012 at 09:20 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Nicola

      wow, awesome post, I was woeidrnng the same thing. and found your site by google, many userful stuff here, now i have got some idea. bookmarked and also signed up your rss. keep us updated.

      October 11, 2012 at 08:19 | Report abuse |
  8. rjc

    Just because you have a public platform to express your mind doesn't necessarily mean you have any thoughts worth being heard

    June 8, 2012 at 11:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. lindaluttrell

    The only healthcare advice I listen to is my doctor's! Celebrities? I don't find it unhealthy at all to drool over George Clooney!

    June 8, 2012 at 13:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Heidi

    I think people listen to celebrities because they talk in normal, easy to understand language. Unfortunately, most celebrities are not smart enough, NOR do they have a medical background that enables them to talk intelligently on any sort of medical issues. Jenny speaks a lot about autism and vaccines, unfortantely most of what she says is not true or have medical research to back up. If you take the time to do the research into the link between autism and vaccines, you will see that there is not a link, unfortunately, the research is confusing. Therefore, when someone like Jenny, comes along and talks using everyday, easy to understand language. People tend to believe it. I do think that as a public personality, Jenny needs to be a bit more careful on what she says and realize she can have a negative impact. Instead, she should focus her energy on raising money to help autism research or raise money to help parents obtain therapy that has been proven to help decrease effects of autism, such as ABA which is too much money for the average person to afford, but yet yields good results with autistic children. I applaud this doctor for trying to open up people's eyes. Just because someone is on tv and seems to know what they are talking about, doesn't mean they actually do know!

    June 8, 2012 at 16:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. mac101

    There has always been a segment of the population that will believe in any snake oil salesman that comes along, because it's easier to do that than use one's own mind. Celebrity endorsements are nothing new, and neither is blatant ignorance.

    June 8, 2012 at 22:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Mabel

    People who drank the Kool-aid on Wakefield's study ignored the most basic rule of any research: correlation does NOT equal causation. Just because symptoms show up around the same period of development as when some vaccines are given does not mean they are caused by it. There is years and years of valid research showing that vaccines are very effective at preventing diseases that kill infants and children. That is the reason they were invented.

    McCarthy is an angry mother seeking someone to blame for her child's malady. She's acting in a tremendously irresponsible manner. Unfortunately, her actions have caused idiot parents to put their children at risk and actual deaths.

    I think she should be sued to within an inch of her life.

    June 9, 2012 at 09:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Sharp

      I think she has done a lot of harm. I just trust my doctor & try to give him all the facts, even the embarassing ones. A case of feminine instincts run amuck.

      June 11, 2012 at 00:20 | Report abuse |
    • Sharp

      Sadly the innocent children were the ones who had to drink the Koolaid.

      June 11, 2012 at 00:21 | Report abuse |
  13. Johnny

    Take it easy, Doc. I think they have an expression for those people who refuse vaccines: "You can't cure stupid."

    June 9, 2012 at 13:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Carolyn

    Do you really think it's okay that there are now 50 vaccines on the schedule and the interactivity of giving 4-5 vaccines on one day to an INFANT has never been studied or proven safe??
    If you don't believe me the next time you go to the doctors, ask to have a product insert (the one with 3 pages of small type). You will see that the insert ADMITS that shots can cause encephaly (which is brain swelling) (that can lead to autism) that the shots have not been studied in combination with other shots, that children who have ever had an allergic reaction to an ingredient (such as formadelhyde, yeast, egg, fetal tissue–see the cdc) should not get certain shots.
    Some children cannot tolerate peanut butter. WHy is it so hard to believe that some children might have violent reactions to neurotxins and preservatives and live or dead viruses injected directly into their bloodstream? If it happend to your child, as it happened to mine, right before your eyes, you would realize that we are not "anti-vaccine" we are simply asking that they start testing to see which children can't tolerate vacciens BEFORE they get harmed, that they just admit this. You know why they won't? Becuase they think we are so stupid we can't handle the truth. They think if they admitted that it happens to 1 in 50 children, everyone would stop vaccinating. Well we aren't that stupid. But they are injuring countless children and ruining their families lives and finances, they are bankrupting the schools, rather than admit in the media what they admit on that package insert, and deep in PUBMED, and deep in CDC if you actually bother to look for the right htings. Like monkey study and Hep B. For example. That vaccine caused brian damage in monkeys when given the day of birth. WHich they started doing to infants in 1997. Which is when autism as we know it started to take over.

    June 9, 2012 at 15:59 | Report abuse | Reply
    • donna

      Who is getting 50 vaccines? I call your bluff. Please provide evidence that someone recommends any individual gets that many.

      June 10, 2012 at 15:16 | Report abuse |
    • Jennifer Garrison

      THANK YOU, Carolyn!! THINK, people....THINK!!!

      June 21, 2012 at 01:15 | Report abuse |
  15. Connie

    Jenny McCarthy just wants attention. Like Suzanne Somers. Jenny used to get attention on the arm of Jim Carey, who responded to her latest rant with some class. I do my job every day; I know what I am good at, I have opinions, but I don't use my notoriety in the community to try to influence others. Celebrities should do their job, get paid more than they should be, go home, keep their opinions to themselves. Penn and Teller on vaccinations; guys, stick with magic.

    June 10, 2012 at 05:24 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. GK

    The number of vaccines required is absurd. Have they actually looked at the interaction of so many different vaccines being given at once in combination with all the environmental ways we're weakening our immune system? I'll be the answer is no.

    June 10, 2012 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Linden

      They have looked at it. The effect of vaccines are a fraction of the pathogens your body must ward off every day.
      Children are exposed to all sorts of stuff, all the time. There is no evidence anywhere that we give our children "too many vaccines"

      June 11, 2012 at 12:31 | Report abuse |
  17. Rick Springfield

    Jenny McCarthy wrote a book and does shows on autism. Her son was diagnosed with it and was not able to communicate with her or Jim Carey. So she set out to see why he was that way and if she could do anything with natural medicine to fix it. She was successful and he is now diagnosed as a normal child without any signs of the disease. So what did she do? First of all, she removed him from all artificial chemicals used in our food system. That meant colors, flavorings, sweeteners, and additives. No soft drinks, no fast foods, no prepared foods, and the likes. The main suspect in autism is high fructose corn syrup and artificial colors. They also got Evan a lot of help from therapists and it worked. She points out that all kids autism is different an not all kids will respond as well as Evan did.

    June 10, 2012 at 14:07 | Report abuse | Reply
    • donna

      Who says that HFCS is the main suspect?

      June 10, 2012 at 15:17 | Report abuse |
  18. Mario

    What about stupid dishonest politicians. Republicans that lie about birth control, HIV/AIDS, and other health issues endanger countless lives. Prayer does NOT heal or prevent illness. Lying about the consequences about pollution and global warming are dangerous. Making up ugly hateful lies about the GLBT community is also dangerous. If it were up to the republican party most Americans would be dangerously ignorant about health issues.

    June 10, 2012 at 22:26 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. erin

    I'll trust them over you and your Asian persuasion any day. Who are you ? Are you paid by the drug companies?
    no vaxes for me and suzanne somers books are awesome! Go away you pig doctor

    June 10, 2012 at 23:34 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Raj

      I wish I disagreed with you! I don't rellay and didn't mean to sound like I did. I wish I was certain enough to disagree with you. {sigh} I agonize over it every day. It's kind of been moot so far, because my son has been sick every single day since the swine flu vaccine came out. You are right about the pattern matching. But what rellay scared me was reading the case study of the lupus patient and stuff about how autoimmune patients can "cascade" after a flu vaccine. It was scary. I just wish I could tell whether my son has an autoimmune disorder. It is frustrating that something that seems in theory like kind of a basic question is unanswerable. Why can't someone tell me if he has one or not? Anyway, I think that if he ever gets well (he's been sick for 6 weeks) I probably will go ahead and get the vaccine, if there are any left. But I can't seem to ditch the fear.

      October 12, 2012 at 03:56 | Report abuse |
  20. mmi16

    Celebrity advice is worth what it's disemination over the air waves costs you. NOTHING!

    June 11, 2012 at 04:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. DGhost

    Celebrities like most people have rights to express their opinions.
    Over the years, the number of vaccinations required for children has increased. It is not unheard of a child getting
    4-5 vaccines in one visit.
    The issue is most of these behavioral illnesses either did go unrecognized or did not exist few decades ago including
    ADHD. More serious studies are needed to see what is causing these new diseases; in my view vaccines alone may not be the culprit. We live in a chemical world. We may not know the long term effects of food additives or other chemicals deemed by FDA to be safe. The issue is long term data...lack of long term data is what makes all this very unsure.
    Now, I won't be blaming Doctor Youn for his opinion. But, plastic surgeons are not immunologists nor epidemiologists nor he is a pediatrician.

    June 11, 2012 at 08:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. notadoc

    Yeah... I'm sure "Doctor" Jenny McCarthy is an expert on medical causality.

    Of course, it couldn't be a result of her being a party girl, now could it?

    June 11, 2012 at 09:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. Athena Nighbert

    A drug allergy is an allergy to a drug, most commonly a medication. Medical attention should be sought immediately if an allergic reaction is suspected. ;.;.

    See ya soon http://healthwellnessbook.comde Athena Nighbert

    June 19, 2013 at 11:12 | Report abuse | Reply
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