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Paula Deen's Diabetes: Should Celebrity Chefs Promote Healthy Eating?

Paula Deen's Diabetes: Should Celebrity Chefs Promote Healthy Eating?

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

Paula Deen, diabetes, obesity, reporting on health, Barbara Feder Ostrov

Celebrity chef Paula Deen, the "queen of Southern cuisine," has long taken flak from health advocates for her fat-laden recipes, and she's getting even more now after her public announcement today that she has Type 2 diabetes. Which raises the question: In an increasingly obese country where Burger King is mulling home delivery of burgers and fries, do celebrity chefs have a responsibility to help people eat more healthfully?

At least one celeb chef thinks so. Radar Online's Neil Woulfe wrote:  

Last August, No Reservations host Anthony Bourdain called Deen "the worst, most dangerous person to America" and said she should "think twice before telling an already obese nation that it's OK to eat food that is killing us."

To recap: Deen revealed on the Today Show that she's been suffering from Type 2 diabetes for three years, during which the popular Food Network show host recommended cheesecake for kids' breakfasts and dished up recipes like fried macaroni.

Deen signed a deal with Novo Nordisk to promote the diabetes drug Victoza (liraglutide), which the FDA says raises the risk of thyroid cancer and pancreatitis. In the interview, she said she would continue to cook the same dishes but would cut back on butter and portion sizes. Novo Nordisk is sponsoring her new Diabetes In A New Light website, but Deen seems to be leaving the promotion of lighter versions of her signature dishes to her sons, Bobby and Jamie. Maybe because lighter versions would dilute her brand?

Deen's conflicted approach – I'm going to cook the same dishes, just maybe cut back a little – reflects that of our country as a whole, and some health advocates are pointing to her announcement as a tragic missed opportunity.

When you have Type 2 diabetes, these advocates say, you need to dramatically change your lifestyle – not just take medication – to stay healthy. It's not a popular message. As Vicki Hyman reports for the Star-Ledger:

Deen shares her diagnosis with 25 million Americans, and 75 million Americans are believed to be pre-diabetic. "What I do think is a missed opportunity, whether it was three years ago or now, is that she could take all the information and use her skills as a cook and a marketing machine and use all of her influence to educate people about how to eat in a way that prevents type 2 diabetes," says (Susan Levin, nutrition education director for the Washington, D.C.-based Physicians' Committee for Responsible Medicine). "I don't get the feeling from what I've heard her saying today that that is the route she's going to take ... I think she's trying to have it both ways. She's making minor compromises, but minor compromises are not going to help when you have type 2 diabetes."

But Levin says that diabetes should change your life. "This isn't about what is the best drug so it cannot change my life. There's no such thing. The drug might help you put a Band-Aid on your disease, but it certainly isn't going to stop the progression ... Paula Deen, you have the power and the influence to save a lot of other people's lives. It would be incredible, as a dietician, if she did wield that power for good and not for drugs."

By the way, as you're reading this, the CDC just happened to release data showing that 78 million adults and almost 13 million children aged 2-19 were obese in 2009-2010. That's obese, not merely overweight.

Related Posts:

Diabetes: Covering a Silent and Tragic Global Epidemic

Useful Resource Guide - Diabetes: Widespread, Poorly Understood

Photo credit: lifescript via Flickr

Home page photo credit: WorkerBee via Wikimedia Commons




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You people need to stop trying to find people to blame for the obesity in America.... Seriously, the only people who are to blame for this epidemic are the Americans who are obese... Im pretty sure shes not forcing people to eat fried cheesecake and macaroni. Grow up and take responsibility for your own problems.

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Here's Pharmalot blogger Ed Silverman's great interview with Diabetic Investor's David Kliff about why Novo Nordisk should drop Paula Deen like a (butter-drenched) hot potato:

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