Blogs & Comment

Paula Deen and Novo Nordisk are not fighting diabetes

Celebrity chef Paula Deen and drug maker Novo Nordisk claim to be fighting diabetes, but they're doing the opposite.

Paula Deen throws out the first pitch at a Washington Nationals game in the MLB in 2010 (Photo: dbking/Wikimedia)

Butter is her friend. And now it seems, so is diabetes.

Looked up to by millions of Americans for outrageous recipes like fried cheesecake, Paula Deen is the celebrity chef of bad food. For her efforts, she has become obese and, as she has recently revealed, diabetic. The admission comes only now that she’s speaking on behalf of Novo Nordisk—the pharmaceutical company which makes the drug (Victoza) she’s using to treat her diabetes.

Deen has no plans to change her recipes, and has been widely quoted as having said, “Like I told Oprah a few years ago, ‘Honey, I’m your cook, not your doctor. You are going to have to be responsible for yourself.’”

Does this mean she’s celebrating the fact she’s diabetic—since that’s what being responsible for herself has brought about? There are two disturbing turn of events here, one concerning Deen’s attitude and the other about the ethics of Novo Nordisk.

First, Deen needs to dramatically change her own diet. Next, she should be a role model and use this tragic, but foreseeable outcome, as a powerful tool to educate her audience and what are the likely many Americans who merrily followed her down the path to diabetes.

Second, has Novo Nordisk been drinking the Deen Kool-Aid? The company is embracing and cheering on a spokesperson who has been a closet diabetic for three years and yet has continued to appear on TV advocating killer recipes while she remains obese.

Certainly there are others who would be ready to say, “I see the way—I’m obese and diabetic because of my lifestyle. I’m wrong to have lived this way. Now learn from me and let’s make a change together.” But Deen’s apparent message is, “I’m obese. I’m diabetic. I’ll get on medications and continue to live as I’ve always lived—more or less. Maybe a slight tweak to my diet and maybe I’ll move around a bit more.”

By choosing Deen, Novo Nordisk is effectively encouraging more people to become diabetic. It’s the most socially irresponsible thing I’ve seen from a pharmaceutical company in a long time.

Many of our children will now die of diabetes-related illness and hence may be the first generation to pass before their parents—not because of war, but from heart attacks. Six million Canadians have pre-diabetes and don’t know it. Society—and companies engaged in health care—must advocate a better message. I challenge other pharmaceuticals to step up and fix the damage Novo Nordisk is creating by using Paula Deen as its spokesperson.

I’ve worked with many pharmaceutical companies in my career and been a participant in telling the proper message. I’ve seen a very balanced history from the industry of advocating lifestyle changes first and only then, if needed, medication. But this time, Novo Nordisk blew it.