In case you haven't heard, famous butter-and-cream Southern supreme chef Paula Deen has announced that she is a type 2 diabetic... and that she has partnered with Novo Nordisk in a campaign promoting their drug, Victoza. The way the Internet is all abuzz with this news, you'd think President Obama had been diagnosed with diabetes. But apparently the fact that Paula Deen, renowned for her carb-laden cookbooks and television shows, now has type 2 diabetes is a total "told ya so!" moment for everyone who doesn't have type 2 diabetes and who's poised to point their finger at the "culprits."
The rumors started circulating last Friday, when news broke that Paula was going to make the big reveal about her Big D, along with a partnership with a drug company (the rumor mill fingered the wrong company). These rumors were laced with patient-blaming, fat-shaming accusations that Paula had caused her own type 2 diabetes and was now capitalizing on it by taking part in a Big Pharma diabetes campaign, along with her two sons, Bobby and Jamie.
Shame on the Blame
Considering we just wrote about the environment of hostility toward type 2 PWDs, we couldn't help but think Ouch! But those who know what life is like with diabetes were much quicker to show their support, like DOC siren Kelly Kunik, never one to take an advocacy opportunity lying down. Kelly writes, "Type 2 has a huge genetic link, and while diet certainly can be a factor in developing it, diet isn't not the be all, end all reason for type 2 diabetes. And if that is the reason why you or your loved one has diabetes — that's OK, because I'm here to help you, not judge you."
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Paula's own analogy for how someone can get type 2 diabetes seems apt: she told USA Today that it's like Russian Roulette. Yes, the factors of heredity, obesity, race, age and lifestyle will up your odds considerably, but there's still a little "something extra" that triggers the disease that doctors haven't quite been able to pinpoint. Just like with most diseases: ya have some risk factors, ya take your chances. Some people get the illness, and some don't.
How do we know for sure that it's more than just being fat or eating poorly that gives you diabetes? We can see it played out. More than 30% of Americans are obese, but only 10% have been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes. The French are well-known for their love of butter and pastries, but as Kelly points out, only 3.8% of people in France actually have type 2 diabetes.
In Paula's case, she explains, "I'm the only one in my family who has it. My grandmother cooked and ate like I ate, and she didn't have it."
Dr. Robin Goland, endocrinologist at Naomi Berrie Diabetes Center in New York City, points out to MSNBC, "Now I'm not recommending this, but if you don't have those genes working against you, you could gain weight and not exercise and your blood sugar would stay normal."
Really, Ms. Deen?
Then there's the ironic part of this story. The campaign Paula and her sons are working on is called Diabetes in a New Light, a "national initiative to help people find simple ways to manage everyday challenges associated with type 2 diabetes." Check out the website here, complete with a smarmy video kicked off by what sounds like a banjo twang and Paula's famous "Hey Y'all!" She proceeds to explain that "over the years, people with diabetes have often asked me for ways to make my recipes a little lighter..."
I guess it just wasn't a priority until she got diagnosed with diabetes herself. Isn't that always the case? Well... thank God she's got religion now!
She also gushes in the video: "Now I'm takin' more walks with my husband, and runnin' after my grandchildren — and I'm loving it all!" Yes, because being diagnosed with diabetes is so much fun. And it's so easy to change your lifestyle habits... er?
Paula admits that she's long been aware her foods are not the healthiest, but she covers up by claiming they are treats that were "never meant for everyday consumption." Still, she's gone on record saying she doesn't plan to change her own food choices, but simply eats in moderation since her diagnosis. Her son Bobby appears to be distancing himself from her fare by launching a new Cooking Channel show called, "Not My Mama's Meals." That's telling...
The Drug Deal
Then there's the issue of the medication she is representing in the Novo Nordisk campaign. The injectable GLP-1 drug Victoza is controversial, to put it politely.
Some of you may remember that the FDA issued a formal warning last summer over possible risks of thyroid cancer and pancreatitis from using Victoza. OK, no one is ever sure if what's happening with lab rats will translate to humans. But still... scary!
The "Jury's Still Out" post we wrote on Victoza in Spring 2010 has become a default user forum for the drug (and the most-commented-on post in 'Mine history with 1,025 reader comments to date!) If you scroll through the comments — all 21 pages of them — you will see a lot of complaints about severe gastrointestinal side effects, including nausea, gas pains, and constipation. Yuck.
I wonder how long Ms. Deen has been on Victoza, or whether she's even tried it yet. Somehow I'm sure it won't mix well with her Buttermilk Fried Chicken.
Is She a Hypocrite?
Who's to say? Some people blame her for denying her recipes caused her diabetes, or the diabetes of others. No one can say for sure whether that is the case or not. At least she's been forced to come clean now and admit that her food is not the healthiest. Save it for special occassions, she says. Amazing what a wake-up call can do, and Paula may simply be on a journey of self-discovery, even at the age of 64.
Others are upset that Paula kept her diabetes a secret for the past three years. Some folks might not understand how someone can sit on this kind of news, or how Paula could continue "business as usual" while having this information in her pocket. I'll agree, it is unfortunate that Paula chose to wait so long, or perhaps wait until she had some kind of monetary endorsement to make revealing her diagnosis more "appealing." But I can understand how conflicted she may have felt. Building a food empire on unhealthy foods and then being diagnosed with a chronic condition with a known correlation to food and obesity has to be difficult, not to mention embarrassing. I can understand why someone wouldn't be anxious to put themselves in that kind of spotlight — although it was inevitable eventually.
Paula herself says she wanted to wait until she was personally ready to reveal her diabetes. "I had to really get myself into a good place when I made the announcement. I would come with information, and I would be armed to be able to help others."
She surely missed an opportunity to become a poster child for reinventing your diet, IMHO. But I guess what's important to focus on — just like with diabetes — is what good we can do moving forward, rather harping on past mistakes. The country's health spotlight certainly is glaring down on Paula Deen.