An Open Letter To Oprah Winfrey and Gayle King

Oprah’s program last Thursday, “Diabetes: America’s Silent Killer” began a buzz in diabetes communities, and a roar in some. I follow up my post last week, Oprah Takes On Diabetes — I Still Have a Request, with people’s reactions and a heart-felt plea.

Dear Oprah and Gayle,

I’m emboldened by all the comments my article received on your show last Thursday about diabetes, to write to you directly. Just in case you haven’t had time to look, you got a lot of comments too. Ordinarily I wouldn’t write to you like this, but I’ve watched you for so long I think of you both as friends, and frankly, if someone were saying things about me that I might want to do something about, well, I’d want a friend to tell me.

A great many people who wrote are thankful that you shined a light on diabetes. However, and maybe this is just me, (although I know it’s not) while I’m sure your intentions were to help us, the show also added to some of the myths already floating around out there and left many people confused.

For instance, someone wrote you,

“Hi Oprah, I am having trouble with how Dr. Oz portrayed diabetes. I am the mom of a 9-year-old girl with Type 1. Why would Dr. Oz show Laureen, a Type 1 who clearly did not take care of herself be the ‘poster-child’ for Type 2?”

That’s a very good question so I was wondering if maybe you’d want to write back to her. Here’s another comment,

“Hey, I really enjoyed the show. Is there any way to PURCHASE COPIES of this particular show? It really needs to be re-visited!!!!!!”

Well, I do agree it needs to be revisited, which is really why I’m writing.

I think it would be invaluable to do a follow-up show that would accomplish a few things the first one didn’t. It could: 1) Explain diabetes, both type 2 and type 1, clearly and accurately, 2) Portray people who are living well with diabetes, 3) Talk about the fact that diabetes can be tough, but it’s manageable, and 4) Help inspire people to manage it.

Just between you and me, a lot of the comments said scaring people to change their behavior is not a very useful tactic. You know I love Dr. Oz but he was a little over zealous about his broken glass analogy destroying our insides, and while that riles people up it doesn’t encourage lasting behavior change. Even I, who’ve had type 1 diabetes for 38 years, (and I’m doing great, I just wanted you to know that) looking at that broken glass, I wanted to go bury my head in the sand. Of course that’s a good way to end up with a piece of glass in your head, isn’t it?

We could also let people know that it’s not diabetes that creates all those fearful complications, but “poorly controlled” diabetes. In fact, when I heard this after having had diabetes for thirty-two years, I realized for the first time how much power I had to positively impact my health. It is still hope, not fear, and a vision of good health, that continues to motivate me ten years later to be healthy.

So, Oprah and Gayle, (and I include you Gayle ’cause I know you and Oprah are best friends and that she calls you in the middle of the night to talk about show ideas) I really, really think we should do a follow up show.

I hope you don’t mind, but I would sleep a lot better tonight if I give you a few ideas before you try this again. So, in your second show, you could have a few people on stage whose specialty actually is diabetes. They’d be good at explaining type 1 and type 2 and how they’re quite different. We could fill the audience with patients who are doing really well managing their diabetes and you could ask them how they do that. You’re good at asking questions and I have a lot of people I could bring. Two of my friends with type 2 diabetes each used it as motivation to lose 100 pounds. One’s been doing triathlons since and the other rides his bicycle 90 miles every weekend. Maybe he’d ride to Chicago!

If you did a two-hour program, we could even talk about how if Washington were really concerned about our health, they’d stop fighting over the health care bill and build more sidewalks and safe city bicycle paths like Finland did to get people exercising. They’d stop allowing food manufacturers to line our supermarket shelves with, as Michael Pollan says, “Food-like substances” that are killing us. They might even create fun ways to engage people in new healthy behaviors. Just look what they did in Sweden! .

I don’t mean to criticize, but let’s work on solutions, not keep rehashing problems. Let’s show people what to do by inspiring them, not blaming them or making them afraid. And finally, for the sake of the two million people who live with type 1 diabetes, myself included, you have the power to give us our moment in the spotlight. Increasingly, we are the forgotten people living in the shadow of type 2 diabetes.

Now I know we have less than a year because you two are soon packing up the show. So, I’m going to sit here right by the phone and wait for your call. My bags are already packed. Have a great day and tell your team there’s a direct flight to Chicago on Jet Blue, really, really cheap.

My best regards,
Riva

Originally published in The Huffington Post

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