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Health Promotion: have we gone too far?

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Recently I made a post about the AIDS campaign in France where rather graphic images were used to get the message about safe sex across. New Scientist has two more stories that relate to the ways that people are promoting healthy behaviour or bringing awareness of health issues.

The first story relates to smoking and the effect that it has on your lungs. The story talks about a new ‘smoking jacket‘ which can be used to prevent the exhaled smoke going to the environment around you by breathing into the collar of the jacket. The smoke is then filtered by material in the jacket but the filters are visible as two lung shapes on the front of the jacket. Over time the filter will become black with the chemicals that are in the smoke thus providing a visual representation of what it may be doing to the smokers lungs.

The second is a review of a new TV show that was shown on Dutch TV. It’s a spin on the (very popular with TV producers now) real life / fly on the wall / reality TV shows that seem to be infesting our channels at the moment. The idea was that there is a dying patient with a terminal illness who is going to donate her organs to a selected patient. Three patients on a waiting list have to convince the donor that they should receive the organs after her passing.

The premise for The Big Donor Show is simple: a terminally ill woman has to select one of three people to receive her kidneys. The 37-year-old woman known as Lisa will make her decision based on the contestants’ histories, profiles and conversations with their friends and families. And viewers will attempt to influence her by sending text messages with “advice” during the show. [quote]

The premise behind the show was to shine light on the need for more organ donors and like all controversial television, the show highlights an uncomfortable issue in our society: there are not enough organs for everyone who needs them. And the implications of this are huge. For obvious reasons there have been massive amounts of media attention aimed at the TV show and the ethical issues (and good taste for that matter) surrounding the TV show.

Following the show it was shown that the premise behind the show was actually a hoax – the ‘donor patient’ was actually a healthy actor and the three patients wanting the transplant were terminally ill but ‘in on the hoax’.

Two very different ways of promoting health behaviours or gaining attention to important health issues; but have we gone too far? When do we start crossing a line from raising awareness to bad taste? What are your thoughts?

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