Intended for healthcare professionals

Reviews Press

Ribbon development

BMJ 2004; 328 doi: (Published 04 March 2004) Cite this as: BMJ 2004;328:589
  1. Rebecca Coombes, freelance journalist (
  1. London

    With so many now to choose from, do ribbons make people more disease aware—or just more confused?

    Walk down any high street and you will see them pinned to assorted lapels in pink, red, tartan, and blue.

    This proliferation of looped empathy ribbons may be heartening, but it is also confusing. Not only are there too many colours to remember what cause they are promoting but, insome cases, one colour has been hijacked by several charities.

    In America, for example, if you meet someone wearing a purple ribbon you may assume itis in sympathy for people with pancreatic cancer. But these ribbons are also worn by breastfeeding campaigners, those against domestic violence, or to raise awareness of the tollof urban violence. Green is worn to publicise organ and tissue donation, but also childhood depression, ovarian cancer, and leukaemia. They are also worn by environmental activists.

    In the United States ribbon wearing is so out of control—you can buy chocolate ribbonsin coloured foils—that one website seeks to create order out of chaos by providing a handy catalogue of all known ribbons ( This includes a list oforphaned ribbons, those that “no longer have a home.”

    Although more restrained, the …

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