I do not have gout. I have only one of the risk factors, and I’m working on that one. My friend Betsy, nearly twenty years my junior, certainly does not have gout, and my slender, healthy, athletic virtual friend Susan does not have gout. Despite the fact that all three of us are fairly unlikely candidates for sitting around like Ben Franklin with our throbbing big toes propped on tasseled cushions, we have all seen an ad on our Facebook wall for participation in a gout study.
Drinking red wine, gobbling aged cheese and putting pressure on both big toes with gay abandon, I ponder the strategy behind this ad. Usually the ads on my Facebook wall make me feel that Big Brother is not only watching, but paying attention pretty nicely. Better, perhaps, than some folks who actually know me. Right now, for example, the ads are for a book by Anne Lamott, a vintage clothing emporium and a cooking school. Check, check and check. Although I am not privy to the algorithms used by Facebook advertisers, it’s fairly easy to see how those ads got on my page.
I really have no objection to Facebook ads; the site is free, I enjoy it tremendously, and someone has to pay for it. Honestly, sometimes they do so well that I actually click on the ads and shop a little. When an ad doesn’t interest me, I follow the same policy I apply to Facebook in general (and to television and print): if I don’t like it, I don’t look at it. If something rises to the level where I find it offensive or dangerous, I speak up. So far, none of the little boxes down the right side of my page have invited me to join the Nazi Party, abduct young children or buy jewelry made from parts of endangered animals.
The gout thing, while it does not offend me, is puzzling. The only people I actually know who have ever had gout are much older than I am, and had other health problems. What algorithm directs that the gout study be promoted to women in their 30s, 40s and 50s who (as far as I know) do not ever leave a trail of cookies involving gout, uric acid, toe pain or arthritis? Do they just have so much money to spend on ads for their research study that they are indiscriminately scatter shot? Are they thinking that maybe our husbands have gout? It could, I suppose, be a preemptive shot over the bow in the hopes that when that pesky uric acid starts accumulating in our extremities we’ll remember the ad and check it out, but that seems like an awfully attenuated basis for spending money on advertising.
My final conclusion, after spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about this non-issue, is that the ad is directed at those of us who have aging parents who are not likely to be on Facebook (or on the Internets in any way at all). When we get the call from Mom or Dad describing a sudden stabbing pain in the left big toe, we will remember the gout study. “Mom,” we will say in a flash of inspiration, “I think that might be gout – I just read about this study. Go see Dr. Welby this week, and let me know if that’s what he thinks is going on.” That doesn’t totally explain Betsy, whose parents are not much older than I am, but perhaps her Facebook behavior fits the “young adults with parents susceptible to early onset gout” profile.
At the very least, the ad has successfully made me add gout to my perpetual list of health concerns. Apparently, “the disorder itself may not be preventable, but you may be able to avoid things that trigger your symptoms” One is advised to “limit alcohol consumption and follow a low-purine diet.” I am not much of a drinker, so I feel pretty safe there. I have also learned that purines are highly concentrated in Purines “are found in high concentration in meat and meat products, especially internal organs such as liver and kidney. In general, plant-based diets are low in purines. Examples of high-purine sources include: sweetbreads, anchovies, sardines, liver, beef kidneys, brains, meat extracts (e.g., Oxo, Bovril), herring, mackerel, scallops, game meats, beer (from the yeast) and gravy.” I’m still okay; it’s a rare day on which I enjoy a meal of sweetbreads and gravy washed down with a pint of Guinness.
Mostly, I think I need a full time job…………………..