The University Record, June 3, 2002

Couric wakes up viewers on colonoscopies

By Carrie Hagin
Health System Public Relations

She’s known as the perky co-host of NBC’s “Today Show,” and millions of Americans wake up to her every morning. Katie Couric’s faithful viewers depend on her to not only deliver the news but also to keep them informed on the latest in home life, fashion sense and health care. So it’s no surprise when Katie does something, much of America follows her lead.

Evidence of this was obvious in March 2000, when Couric underwent a live, on-air colonoscopy on the “Today Show,” two years after the tragic death of her husband Jay Monahan from colon cancer at age 42. This was the cornerstone of a weeklong series the show ran promoting colon cancer awareness and endorsing colorectal cancer screening.

Researchers from the U-M Health System (UMHS) say Couric’s campaign had a substantial effect on the number of cancer screening tests. They call this finding the “Couric Effect”.

“Our study found Ms. Couric’s campaign resulted in a substantial increase in colonoscopies performed across the country,” says Associate Professor of Internal Medicine Mark Fendrick, who is a senior author on the paper and co-director of the Consortium for Health Outcomes, Innovation, Cost Effectiveness Studies (CHOICES) at UMHS.

“Not only did Ms. Couric’s television campaign have an immediate impact, but the significant increase in screening rates remained long after the broadcast,” said Fendrick, also associate professor of health management and policy at the School of Public Health.

U-M researchers examined colonoscopy rates drawn from a database of 400 endoscopists nationwide, as well as rates from a Midwestern managed care organization in July 1998 (89 weeks before Ms. Couric’s procedure) through December 2000 (40 weeks after). Peter Cram, lecturer and research fellow in internal medicine and the lead author on the study, says the results were striking.

“Our study shows the number of colonoscopies increased by 19 percent, and was sustained for 40 weeks,” Cram says. The study also revealed that significantly more women and younger individuals underwent colonoscopy following Ms. Couric’s campaign than before, a finding consistent with the demographics of the “Today Show” viewers, who are 60 percent female with a median age of 47.5.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among Americans. The other authors of the study are Sandeep Vijan, assistant professor of internal medicine, John Inadomi, assistant professor of internal medicine, Mark E. Cowen, adjunct clinical instructor or internal medicine, and Daniel Carpenter, associate professor of political science.