Paula Deen – the self-proclaimed Queen of Butter and Cream Cheese – recently revealed she has Type 2 diabetes. When I heard the news, I was hardly surprised. She’s an overweight, inactive adult who eats a high-calorie low-nutrient diet (assuming she eats her own food) — all factors that put her at high risk of health problems. What did surprise me – and really got me fuming – was that she 1) was diagnosed with diabetes three years ago, and is just now announcing it and 2) is partnering with a drug company on her new “Diabetes in a New Light” campaign.
Despite our culinary and nutritional differences, I have always loved Paula Deen. She’s an authentic, endearing, and seemingly nurturing woman who looks like she’d be the perfect grandma. But right now, I’m disappointed. Such a high profile, loved woman could have been a terrific figurehead for making lifestyle changes to combat disease. I would never suggest that she give up butter or start making only salads on her show. Instead, here’s what I think she should have done:
1. Admit she had adult-onset diabetes earlier. It’s her personal life, and she can theoretically keep whatever she wants private. But to hide her condition for three years while she continued to get richer and more famous by encouraging her viewers to eat eat rich, fatty food is just wrong.
2. Partner with Fruits & Veggies More Matters, or another poorly funded non-profit agency that is tirelessly trying to get Americans to incorporate more fruits and vegetables into their diets – not a drug company. Paula Deen is already rich, and she doesn’t need a lucrative deal with Novo Nordisk to make ends meet, so here she had a unique opportunity to be a much-needed figurehead for a food group that could actually improve our health if it had any marketing money behind it. What a wasted opportunity.
To her credit, Paula gives a couple of lifestyle tips in her personal statement (e.g. reducing intake of sweet tea – a useful tip) and has some “lightened” recipes on her website now (but who wants to eat lasagna with fat-free cheese and reduced-carb noodles? Not me.), but in many ways it seems like she’s missing the point: Type 2 Diabetes is a lifestyle-related disease. If you replace some of what you’re eating with vegetables and fruits, get a little more active, and thus drop some excess pounds, you can manage or even reverse your disease. You can still enjoy food, and you’ll likely have more energy to enjoy the other parts of your life. And you won’t need drugs.
I wish Paula Deen would have seized this opportunity to invite Americans to join her in changing their lifestyle habits to achieve better health.
*Image credit: pauladeen.com*