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People Take More Interest In Health Education Just After Death Of Public Figures

Update Date: Apr 22, 2014 09:02 AM EDT

Heath communicators can convey information about the disease prevention and detection more easily just after the death of public figures, according to a new study. 

The study involving 1,400 adults found that immediately after Steve Jobs' death, more than a third of survey participants sought information about how he died and about cancer in general. Around 7 percent of them also sought information specifically about pancreatic cancer - the disease that caused Jobs' death.

"In the medical community, there has been a big push to try to educate the public about the nuances of cancer," said lead author Jessica Gall Myrick, assistant professor in the IU School of Journalism, in the press release. "It's not just one disease; it's a lot of different diseases that happen to share the same label. Celebrity announcements or deaths related to cancer are a rare opportunity for public health advocates to explain the differences between cancers, and how to prevent or detect them, to a public that is otherwise not paying much attention to these details."

The research unexpectedly also found that racial minorities and people with fewer years of education were more likely to identify with Jobs, and to follow up and seek further information about pancreatic cancer after his death. 

"Because there are large racial disparities in the incidence of many cancers, much focus is on such populations," the authors wrote. "Unfortunately, the population of individuals who may need cancer education the most often seek out cancer information the least -- especially particular low-income and racial minority populations for whom cancer is more prevalent. This makes our results fairly surprising, and it suggests that in certain contexts, cancer prevention, detection and communication efforts directed toward disparity populations may find an approach that uses relevant public figures and celebrities as useful."

The study will be published in the Journal of Health Communication.

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