I’m passionate about making sure Australians have access to good healthcare. I’m very aware that many don’t see their doctor as often as they should, so I try to provide up-to-date information through media appearances. People might see me on morning television speaking about the latest study on heart disease. They may be stuck in traffic and hear me discussing the flu vaccine. They could even be using their iPad and read one of my articles on decreasing screen time. Hopefully, some of what I’m saying in the background sinks in or ignites a conversation about improving their and their family’s health. A few years ago, I was asked if I’d like to host a season of my favourite TV show, Embarrassing Bodies. It was originally filmed in the UK and I loved the way it was designed to “titillate and educate”. Viewers might tune in for a bit of light-hearted entertainment, but they come away with an improved knowledge of the human body, increased empathy for others struggling with illness, and more motivation to improve their own health. I auditioned for Embarrassing Bodies Down Under, and came away with a presenter’s role, even though I had little experience in front of the camera. I was thrown straight into the deep end, holding consultations in a brightly lit clinic on the back of a truck in Parramatta. Telling your personal story on camera can be stressful, but having your intimate medical examination filmed can be very confronting. I was unsure if any patients would turn up. But over a few weeks of filming, hundreds of patients came through our Embarrassing Bodies clinic. Some people had been living with terrible medical conditions for years, and it was rewarding to be able to give them a formal diagnosis and a treatment plan. It was also rewarding to know that the audience at home was learning more about themselves too. ‘Education by stealth’ is a well-known phenomenon. And viewers with problems covered on the show were known to see their GP in the following days.
Some of the feedback we got showed how effective it can be. One person told us: “My 17-year-old son learnt how to check his testicles from watching your show. He found a lump and got treated early for cancer.” The program isn’t on-air any more, but I’m continuing my efforts to provide good health advice to people in an entertaining way. My latest focus is battling the rise of ‘wellness warriors’ and internet ‘influencers’ who dish out false information about health. Social media gives these charlatans, who often have minimal scientific knowledge, a platform they have never had before, which means they can easily provide sick people with advice. The danger of misinformation is real, and it makes me even more determined to provide good, science-based information to people who need help.