Blog | Friday, February 3, 2012

'I'm your cook, not your doctor'

Celebrity chef Paula Deen confirmed she had type 2 diabetes. She was diagnosed three years ago, but only decided to come out recently. She also mentioned that she is a paid spokesperson for drug company Novo Nordisk, maker of several diabetes drugs. (Click here to view Al Roker's interview).

The Lady's Brunch Burger - Aerial View by Marshall Astor - Food Fetishist via Flickr and a Creative Commons licenseWhen the news started breaking earlier this week, I had mixed emotions about Deen as a spokesperson for diabetes. Blogger and health care marketer Richard Meyer at posted This is a spokesperson for Novo? Deen is of course known for her southern style of cooking, which typically involves very fattening ingredients. At one her restaurants she famously serves a hamburger with bacon and egg on a donut instead of a bun.

Rich correctly asks, "What message does this send to people ? That it's OK to eat really bad food because diabetes can be treated with Rx drugs ?"

I commented on his blog that if Deen actually changes her ways, and focuses on healthier cooking, providing healthier recipes to her fans and other diabetics, she might actually make the perfect spokesperson. Americans have not been paying attention to what we eat and obesity has now become an epidemic, leading to increasing numbers of patients with type 2 diabetes.

After seeing the Today show video, I remain on the fence. Her interview was not the redemption story I was hoping for. Give journalistic kudos to Al Roker, who pressed Deen on whether she had changed her ways or changed her cooking. She responded essentially stating that she has always eaten (and suggested others eat) in moderation, claiming that her weekly cooking show is only 30 days out of a full year and that no one should eat that kind of food every day. According to Deen, when asked a similar line of questions from Oprah, she responded, "I'm your cook, not your doctor."

Deen did state that she and her sons would work to come up with lighter recipes (available on Novo's website) and recommended people go to their doctor, get tested and "get on a program." On the website diabetes in a new light, Deen does say that she had to give up sweet tea. In fact, rigid diet and exercise programs do not work all that well in reducing weight or improving diabetes, since patients have a hard time sticking to them, so her mantra, "I wasn't about to change my life, but I have made simple changes in my life" may have some merit.

However, I believe there is still a difference between promotion of healthy lifestyle and realistic changes in diet and exercise and "everything in moderation" and "it's OK to have that little piece of pie." Paula doesn't have to become the next Richard Simmons or Jillian Michaels, but I would have liked to seen a little more "mea culpa."

I am interested to see how this plays out in the media and in public opinion. This is a terrible disease and the prevalence is getting worse. Ms. Deen has the potential to make a major impact. I hope she takes her spokesperson role seriously.

Matthew Mintz, MD, is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians. He is board certified in internal medicine and has been practicing for more than a decade. He is also an Associate Professor of Medicine at an academic medical center on the East Coast. His time is split between teaching medical students and residents, and caring for patients. This post originally appeared at Dr. Mintz' Blog. Conflict-of-interest disclosures are available here.