Major risk factors for Type 2 diabetes include a lack of exercise, being overweight and making poor diet choices. Eating a hamburger served between doughnuts; a recipe for which Paula Deen is famous certainly fits into the “poor diet choice category.
Typically, when a celebrity reveals that he or she is battling a disease, the motivation for going public is to create awareness and maybe raise funds for research. Michael J. Fox and Parkinson’s, Magic Johnson and HIV and Lance Armstrong and testicular cancer all come to mind. These people created foundations, took control of their health and inspired others to have hope.
And then there’s celebrity chef Paula Deen. On Jan. 17, the 65-year-old announced that she has been living with Type 2 diabetes for three years. This disorder that usually strikes in adulthood is associated with insulin resistance that causes high glucose levels in the blood. Complications from diabetes include heart disease, stroke, blindness, circulatory problems and early death. According to the American Diabetes Association, 26.9 percent of Americans age 65 and older have diabetes. This is not a disease to be taken lightly and it is sad for anyone to develop this very serious disease.
So did Deen kick off an awareness campaign that might alert other people to their risk for developing the disease? Did she promise to overhaul her sauce filled recipes and the buttered-up message she puts out into the world?
No. On the Today show she dodged questions about her own diet, threw out some vague and worthless advice about practicing moderation, and then bragged about her new gig as spokeswoman for Danish firm Novo Nordisk’s injectable diabetes drug Victoza (Liraglutide).
A day later, under a mound of criticism after the Today interview, Deen announced that she would donate an undisclosed “certain percentage” of her income from Novo Nordisk to the American Diabetes Association.
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As a celebrity chef on the Food Network, Deen is positioned to make a significant impact, if she cared to do so. She has the ideal platform for inspiring Americans to change their diets, with two hit television shows and a huge audience. Were she to impart education about lifestyle choices and diabetes, she could tell thousands of viewers that in 2010, studies in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed that diabetes drugs don’t help patients avoid heart disease and that lifestyle changes, like diet and exercise, are far more effective in managing—and reversing—Type 2 diabetes.
Yet, where’s the payoff for Deen in that message? Victoza made $784 million for Novo Nordisk in the third quarter of 2011, and now she’ll get a piece of that despite the fact that she’s pushing a drug with a Food and Drug Administration warning about its likelihood to cause thyroid tumors and cancer.
Celebrities, modern-day demigods who wield much influence over the American masses, should be responsible for the products they endorse. Do you recall the 1950s ads with actor/six-pack-a-day smoker/lung cancer patient John Wayne touting the benefits of non-irritating “mild” Camel cigarettes that didn’t harm his voice? Didn’t we learn from that?
One person did. According to the New York Post, Nancy Assuncao quit her post as Deen’s publicist last month, citing her distaste for Deen’s deal with Novo Nordisk.
Before her announcement, Deen brushed aside rumors that she had diabetes for a few years, and said she didn’t go public so she could “figure things out in my own head” and that she wanted to “bring something to the table” when she revealed her condition. But what she brought to the table wasn’t a diabetes-fighting, low-cal, low-sugar, healthier version of her famous doughnut burger. Instead she has decided to hawk a diabetes drug that made its manufacturer, Novo Nordisk, $784 million just in the third quarter last year. Ms. Deen has decided to avoid how diabetes can be prevented and accept a pay check for promoting an answer that is akin to “closing the barn door after the horses have escaped”.
You have to wonder: Did Deen keep her diabetes under wraps to protect her reputation as the queen of fattening comfort food, or did she stay quiet until she inked her deal with Novo Nordisk? Either way, this is an irresponsible, uninspiring, disappointing move that hopefully won’t influence other stars to encourage their fans to hand over their lives to irresponsibility to be solved by drugs and the companies that make them.