That's the finding of a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan Health System and the University of Iowa. In the July 14 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, the team reports that colonoscopy rates nationwide jumped more than 20 percent in the days and months after Couric's on-air test on the "Today Show." The researchers have dubbed the phenomenon the "Katie Couric Effect."
The results also show that the higher rate of colonoscopies was sustained for nearly a year after the show, and that the proportion of colonoscopies performed on women and people under age 50 rose -- echoing "Today Show" audience demographics.
"These findings suggest that a celebrity spokesperson, even one without the specific disease that he or she is promoting, can have a sizable impact on the public behavior related to that disease," says Mark Fendrick, M.D., the U-M physician who helped lead the research team.
Adds lead author Peter Cram, M.D., M.B.A., a former U-M internal medicine lecturer now at U-I's College of Medicine, "Considering that fewer than half of Americans currently get appropriate screening for colon cancer, the second-leading cause of cancer deaths, Ms. Couric's efforts are especially significant."
However, the authors note, their study doesn't reveal whether the "Today Show" viewers inspired by Couric to get colonoscopies were those whose risk of colon cancer was highest. Although colonoscopy can catch and remove pre-cancerous polyps in any colon, current national guidelines recommend it mainly for people age 50 and over, who face the highest risk and should get checked every 10 years.