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Celebrity Health Advice Sized Up on Slate: Jenny McCarthy Missed Autistic Red Flag?

Posted Dec 09 2009 8:25am


Jenny McCarthy might have written several best-selling parenting books (Louder Than Words: A Mother's Journey in Healing Autism) but she's no health expert and I highly doubt she's cured her son or anyone else of autism.  But there are plenty of people who do believe her health claims (e.g., vaccines cause autism) despite evidence to the contrary.  Why? She's pretty and famous and a former Playboy Playmate who gets to voice her (uninformed) opinion to national audiences on Oprah and in Cookie Magazine.  There's just no comparison between her and say, Dr. Paul Offit, the real expert who defends vaccines in his book,  Autism's False Prophets.  Honestly, before all the autism talk, I thought she was the type of celebrity that didn't take her celebrity or supposed sex appeal all that seriously.  Maybe that's still true, but she's certainly using both to promote false information.
 
The ex-model is just one of the famous actors and personalities Dr. Rahul Parikh targets in his article on how celebrities have  talked in public about and promoted their health conditions and treatments (Doc Hollywood: If celebrities insist on using their fame to bring awareness to health problems, they should follow these guidelines).  Parikh, a pediatrician, reports that Jenny's son apparently showed signs of autism well before his 18-month vaccinations:
...McCarthy described her infant son as a quiet "Buddha baby" who seemed to stare off into space rather than making eye contact and engaging with his mother. That's a classic early red flag for autism, one that was probably overlooked well before her son received many of his vaccines
McCarthy discusses her son's ordeal at every turn, but she hasn't disclosed his medical records. If McCarthy is going to blame vaccination for autism despite all the medical and legal evidence to the contrary, she needs to be more up-front with her son's story. Celebrities who go public should also refrain from publicizing preliminary findings and be sure to communicate caveats, like the risks of a screening test in addition to its benefits, regularly.

Amen, Dr. Parikh!  Now if we could just find a reasonable yet glamorous spokesperson for children's health.  Wouldn't it be great if we could get someone like Halle Berry for honest public service announcements:

Being a mother is one of the best things I've ever done, but it's hard work.  I breastfed (daughter's name) for (fill in the blank).  Not because I thought it would make her healthier or smarter or better, but because I wanted to and I had the extra time, help, and money to make it possible.   And besides, I'm much more concerned with teaching (daughter's name) how to love, how to be a good friend, to be thankful for and enjoy all the good things in her life.  And if times get tough I want her to feel she can get through it and know I will always love her no matter what.  Those gifts aren't as easy for parents as breastfeeding.  They take a lot of time and patience, and of course, plain old listening.
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