There is a vast range of books available to the public about health, including volumes focused on specific illnesses, therapies, and prevention strategies, along with various compendia—many of which are targeted to a specific audience (such as women, gays, or the elderly). Many books are written by physicians, but more and more nontraditional healers and laypeople are also authoring health-related books. Many of the lay authors write about a condition or illness they have personally experienced.
A heightened demand by the public for information about health is one reason for the flood of health books. The demand arises from other sources as well, including a growing interest in taking personal responsibility for one's health, self-care for chronic illness, complementary and an alternative therapies, and various dissatisfactions with the state of medical care. Another factor is the growing sophistication and marketing prowess of major media corporations. Health books are frequently profitable, and are increasingly part of a coordinated sales campaign that includes video tapes, audio tapes, magazine articles, and Internet publicity efforts.
The wide distribution of books on health, along with the broader marketing of information about health, has raised the level of public awareness about many health issues. Books are especially potent in their ability to provide information beyond that offered by clinicians. However, as these books are purchased and read primarily by middle-class individuals with specific preexisting concerns, the impact of the books on the health of the overall public is less clear.
MICHAEL S. GOLDSTEIN