Paula Deen’s Diabetes: Are We Getting the Right Message?


The blogosphere was thrumming about whether the Food Network’s down-home Southern queen, Paula Deen, has Type 2 diabetes. Yes, by now you know she does.

It doesn’t bother me that she kept it “close to my chest” as she announced on the Today Show to Al Roker. She said she didn’t want to talk about it until she had something to offer her public.

So I’m left to wonder, did the three years it took Deen to come clean mean she waited until she could help others by being spokesperson for a new Novo Nordisk campaign, “Diabetes in a New Light”? (Deen takes Victoza, a Novo Nordisk injectable, to manage her diabetes.) Or should we finally recognize and admit, just as Deen now has, that diabetes is a lot for a person to take in and learn how to responsibly manage?

No matter what Deen’s real reason was for keeping her diagnosis mum, I applaud that she’s now using her popularity to help inspire the millions of Americans who eat as she ate: an unhealthy high-fat, high-carb, excessive-calorie diet.

What I fear, however, is that too many Americans will still dismiss weight and healthy eating as inconsequential to managing diabetes. Already Deen appears to be dragging her feet on just saying that being overweight or obese, along with a lack of physical activity, is one of the most common causes of Type 2 diabetes. Together, these factors are responsible for nearly 95 percent of diabetes cases in the U.S.

When asked by Roker what the main causes of diabetes are, Deen seemed to fumble and then said genetics, age and lifestyle (an easy cover for unhealthy eating and excess weight), and put emphasis on stress. 

In the USA Today article, “Paula Deen Spreads Word About Diabetes in Down-Home Manner,” Deen answered who gets diabetes by saying, “It’s about heredity. It’s about age, lifestyle, race.” Funny that weight has once again gone missing in this string of risk factors.

Let’s also be clear: Age is becoming less and less relevant to who gets Type 2 diabetes, with increasing obesity in children. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the number of overweight children in the U.S. has doubled and the number of overweight adolescents has tripled since 1980. The CDC reports 151,000 youths under the age of 20 have diabetes, and cases of Type 2 diabetes among youth and adolescents has been reported with increasing frequency. Understand there’s a reason why Type 2 diabetes, once called “adult-onset” diabetes, is no longer.

I applaud Deen for coming out. I give her a lot of credit for putting her credibility and career at risk and for all she’s overcome in her life, including crippling years of agoraphobia and poverty.

I also love the positive take of Novo’s campaign, a new light — diabetes is not a death sentence. We can live with diabetes and have a full life.

I only hope as Deen leads a nation of almost 26 million with diabetes and 79 million with pre-diabetes that she doesn’t sidestep the importance of healthy eating, maintaining a normal weight and activity. Let’s not soft-peddle the “lifestyle” bit and merely replace it with medicine. 

As those of us in diabetes do know, the Diabetes Prevention Program in 1992 with 3,000 participants showed that 58 percent of participants — across all ethnic groups, for both men and women — reduced their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes with moderate weight loss and exercise. In those over age 60, the risk reduction was a whopping 71 percent! Those participants who were taking metformin, an oral diabetes drug, only reduced their risk by 31 percent.

So Paula, keep it going, keep it clean and keep it real. Let’s not create more diabetes myths, and let us do recognize that managing diabetes takes a personal commitment to healthy eating, proper weight, activity, being well informed, yes, managing stress and yes, taking your meds if prescribed.

And let’s particularly stress that healthy eating, weight and activity are the best tools the nearly 80 million Americans with pre-diabetes have to prevent or delay their diabetes diagnosis.

What do you think? Are we spreading the right message by having Paula Deen as a spokesperson for diabetes?

Originally published on Huffington Post.

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11 years ago

Paula Came out 3 YEARS later to Make a PROFIT. she’s signed a multi million dollar deal with Novo. Let’s be clear…it’s not to ” educate people” if so SHE would be educated about type 2 diabetes! Just because genetics is there doesn’t mean you’ll get it. If she wasn’t eating all the unhealthy goods she has cooked she would not be a type 2 diabetic. My child has type 1 diabetes and did NOTHING to ” get it” and there is NO CURE! How I wish there was. The public needs to educate themselves on the differences of type… Read more »

L. Block
L. Block
11 years ago

Paula Deen puts herself out there as a “food expert.”  It is lacking in responsibility to continue to push her Southern Cooking artery clogging recipes, while she herself is a victim of that very excess.  Not all viewers are aware of the dietary dangers of her recipes or health risks involved.  She’s used her celebrity irresponsibly for profit.  Let her take a lesson from the Chef’s that INCLUDE healthy eating messages and responsible choices in their recipes-Alton Brown, Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart etc. Let her do it at home alone—she’s had her shot at being a positive on the general publics eating habits. … Read more »

Riva Greenberg
11 years ago

I think the anger Deen has aroused is about duplicity. It seems she’s going to profit by being sneaky about feeding America unhealthy food while she had diabetes. And, yes, most people, both people with diabetes and the general public don’t understand diabetes. It’s an amazingly complex condition and we’ve reduced it in the media to the notion that I’m going to “control” it with this medicine. And how the body gains, stores and loses weight is just as complex. This whole malestrom might prove worthwhile if it gets people more educated about diabetes.

11 years ago

It’s no ones F …ing business if Paula chose not to mention her diabetes until recently. She has a right to medical privacy. Give it up people.

Deborah Kanter
11 years ago

“It’s about heredity. It’s about age, lifestyle, race.” ????
Race? She sounds like a lousy spokesperson, especially if she had 3 years to gear up.

Nathan Shackelford
11 years ago

I don’t know… I am not mad at Paula for eating, enjoying and promoting fatty, high-carb comfort food. Lots of people are doing that. She’s the queen of comfort, not a doctor.  We need better information from the FDA and health professionals about what processed foods and carbs are really doing to our population. Many people, including Paula Deen, are misinformed about how to live a healthy life. It is much more of a problem than a celebrity showing people how to cook… She has diabetes because her genetics cause her body to efficiently store fat. Her high carb diet… Read more »

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