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Barbara Hannah Grufferman: Paula Deen and Diabetes: Her Golden Opportunity

Date January 20, 2012

To be authentic, according to most authorities on authenticity, is to be true to one's own self, to one's own nature. I suppose Paula Deen, while instructing viewers to add butter, sugar, and more butter and sugar (and then deep frying everything in more butter) to her recipes -- allegedly based on her "Grandmama Paul's Southern cooking" -- was being authentic even as she was, perhaps not knowingly, helping to lead millions of Americans on the path towards obesity.

Of course, there is such a thing as free will. We could watch -- as many of us do -- Ms. Deen on TV having a grand old time whipping up these calorie-laden, high-fat content foods purely for the entertainment value. She's charming, funny and a real (shall I say authentic?) down-home gal. So, let me set the record straight right up front about this: I have no issue with what she has been touting all these years to millions. But I'm feeling strangely uncomfortable with the fact that she didn't talk about her type 2 diabetes until three years after her diagnosis, and now she's going to make even more money by promoting a drug to treat the illness.

I believe in privacy. Everyone is entitled to it. But if you're in the public eye -- as Ms. Deen is -- and your television show and cookbooks offer recipes that when prepared according to instruction, and consumed regularly, could contribute to weight gain -- resulting in a whole host of related health issues including diabetes -- one might expect the celebrity to share the information with her fans a little sooner. It's not a privacy issue. It's all about being real.

Studies have shown that obesity contributes to many illnesses and diseases including diabetes, which is running rampant in this country. Often referred to as the "lifestyle illness," contributing factors of type 2 diabetes include too much weight and too little exercise. Ms. Deen, being an authentic woman, ate her own cooking while urging others to follow suit, even in the face of an alarming rate of obesity among young children, who conventional wisdom suggests, get their meals cooked for them by parents. These parents might very well be influenced by the authentic cooking of Ms. Deen and other chefs who believe in a style of food preparation we can only describe as indulgent.

For sure, we don't usually develop diabetes from food alone. Heredity and lack of exercise certainly play a role. In an interview for the New York Times article about Ms. Deen's announcement, however, a spokesperson for the American Diabetes Association said:

You can't just eat your way to Type 2 diabetes. But, there's no denying that Paula's food has a lot of what we call the deadly triangle: fat, sugar and salt.

Diabetes is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke and is the number one cause of kidney failure, blindness and lower limb amputations in America. Diagnosing and controlling diabetes is especially important for women, because cardiovascular disease is actually "more deadly" in diabetic women than in diabetic men.

Ms. Deen, still being true to herself, announced her diabetes on the "Today Show" and along with her two sons, is embarking on a nationwide tour promoting new, improved, healthier recipes and the importance of exercise to keep diabetes at bay. All good.

I wonder, however, how her legions of fans will feel about Ms. Deen's recent revelation that she will be a spokesperson for Victoza, a diabetes medication from Norvo Nordick, which costs about $500 a month. No question there are followers who are understandably supportive and forgiving, but there are many who are not. The posts on social media have been fast, furious and ferocious. One tweeter noted,


Brad Walsh

I think it's completely gross that Paula Deen made $$$ pushing food that makes you sick and will now make $$$ pushing the medication for it.

Paula Deen has a golden opportunity to send a very important message to this country, if she wants to join the fight against diabetes in a truly authentic way: eat less, eat healthier, move your body ... and do all these things BEFORE you develop diabetes. Then, maybe you won't need to take the drug to treat it.

Her authentic self will be standing ... and we'll be listening.

* * *

For tips on living your best life after 50, check out The Best of Everything After 50. Stay in touch: "Friend" me on Facebook and "Tweet" me on Twitter (BGrufferman). And remember:
Turning 50 is more than an age . . it's a movement.


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