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Weighing in on Paula Deen


The huge fuss over Paula Deen’s type 2 diabetes is understandable.   She is, after all, the queen of high-calorie Southern cooking.  And diabetes rates are especially high in the South.

Perhaps less understandable is the reaction of the American Diabetes Association.  As reported in the New York Times,

Heredity, according to the American Diabetes Association, always plays some part. “You can’t just eat your way to Type 2 diabetes,” said Geralyn Spollett, the group’s director of education.

Wrong.  You most definitely can eat your way to type 2 diabetes.

Type 2 diabetes is closely linked to overweight and obesity.  No, not everyone who is overweight develops type 2 diabetes.  But most people who have type 2 diabetes are overweight.

The first line of defense?  Lose a few pounds.  Even a relatively small reversal of calorie balance can make symptoms of type 2 diabetes disappear and reduce or eliminate the need for drugs.

Mrs. Deen does not mention weight as a factor in her disease, or losing weight as an effective treatment.

Instead, she is now a spokesperson for the drug Victoza.

According to the Times’ account, Mrs. Dean says that it is elitist to criticize her food:

You know, not everybody can afford to pay $58 for prime rib or $650 for a bottle of wine. My friends and I cook for regular families who worry about feeding their kids and paying the bills.

Really?  Does Mrs. Deen think those families can afford to pay the $500 a month drug companies charge for Victoza?

Victoza costs in other ways too.  It has to be injected and is not exactly benign.

Victoza® is not recommended as the first medication to treat diabetes. Victoza® is not insulin and has not been studied in combination with insulin…It is not known if Victoza® is safe and effective in children. Victoza® is not recommended for use in children

In animal studies, Victoza® caused thyroid tumors—including thyroid cancer—in some rats and mice.  It is not known whether Victoza® causes thyroid tumors or a type of thyroid cancer called medullary thyroid cancer (MTC) in people which may be fatal if not detected and treated early…Inflammation of the pancreas (pancreatitis) may be severe and lead to death.

The company also advises:

Victoza® is an injectable prescription medicine that may improve blood sugar (glucose) in adults with type 2 diabetes when used along with diet and exercise.

Diet and exercise?  Why not just do that in the first place?

As for the American Diabetes Association: its disinterest in promoting diet and exercise is easily explained.  It is funded by drug companies.

I gave a talk at an annual meeting of the Association a few years ago and was astounded by the number of drug companies giving things—writing pads, pens, and tape holders, but also lab coats and stethoscopes—at the trade exhibit.  Much of the scientific meeting was devoted to drug studies.  I spoke at the only session that year on dietary issues.  And Coca-Cola sponsored a session on sugars in diabetes.

Mrs. Deen’s food is best eaten in moderation.  She would do more for her own health and that of her fans if she used her television presence to promote healthier lifestyles.

Marion Nestle is the author of What To Eat and is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University. Nestle blogs regularly at Food Politics where this post first appeared.

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Al LewisBarbara TaylorD.R. O'BrienSJ Motew, MD Recent comment authors
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Al Lewis
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Al Lewis

Paula Deen is the Typhoid Mary of diabetes, the only difference being that the latter wasn’t getting paid to spread it around.

Barbara Taylor
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Barbara Taylor

I don’t see people saying what their health issues are, including president or CEO of McDonalds! We don’t know the status of Marie Calendars health and it’s none of our business! Oprah goes wy up and down, but she’s put trainers and others on the road to sucess, and she isn’t very susessfulas far as weight reduction goes ! I can almost guarentee that she has diabetes, but we will never know…wonder what she’s thinking now…Paula has an empire to protect and is talking moderation, but don’t crusify someone when it’s really, a partof her private life thats not our… Read more »

D.R. O'Brien
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D.R. O'Brien

Ms. Paula is as business venture as a person. It’s not like you can find her in her restaurant. The empire is built on comfort food. Switching to steamed vegatables and broiled/baked foods is not going to happen. It is easier for Americans to change medications than lifestyle. She is just the face of enough Americans that support her. In the last week, we’ve heard statins increase risks for women (…that don’t have to change diet/lose weight to control lipids anymore). Why would we expect the empire to risk the empire?

SJ Motew, MD
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SJ Motew, MD

A great opportunity to discuss dietary and weight loss treatment of diabetes blown. Time to fess-up Paula, high carb high calorie cooking is not helping.