The Paula Deen Diabetes Debate

“Her behavior was egregious”

–Nancy Snyderman, MD on Today

“Thinking of getting into the leg-breaking business, so I can profitably sell crutches later.”

–Anthony Bourdain on Twitter

“Lets not burn Paula on the stake for advertising food the way we know it as a nation.”

–Comment on NPR

These are just some of the comments that followed the announcement that celebrity chef Paula Deen was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years ago. The southern comfort food celebrity chef just made this information public this week in an interview with Al Roker on the Today show.

One of the more controversial elements of the announcement was that Deen is now a paid spokesperson for the pharmaceutical company that makes medications for patients with diabetes. Novo Nordisk and Deen have set up a website: Diabetes in a New Light™ to educate people about the disease.

Here’s what Today’s Professionals, Dr. Nancy Snyderman, ad executive Donny Deutsch, and lawyer and commentator Star Jones had to say about it:

Here are several conflicting questions this whole episode brings up :

  1. Doesn’t Ms. Deen have the right to disclose her health information when and how she wants, or not to disclose it at all?
  2. Is the fact that Ms. Deen continued to market high fat, high caloric meals to her viewers after she was diagnosed with diabetes (without stressing the possible health consequences) hypocritical?
  3. Does it leave the impression that it’s OK to eat these foods because there are medications that can deal with health consequences later? Shouldn’t prevention take precedence over treatment?
  4. Do celebrity chefs have a responsibility to mold the way we eat? Or do celebrity chefs just serve up what people want to eat?
  5. Will the new website really have an impact on the way people deal with diabetes, or just act as an advertisement for the pharmaceutical company’s products?
  6. How do celebrity endorsements affect the use of medications?
  7. Should Paula Deen change her on-air cooking style?

I would love to know what you think. What side to you come down on?


Michele R. Berman, M.D. was Clinical Director of The Pediatric Center, a private practice on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. from 1988-2000, and was named Outstanding Washington Physician by Washingtonian Magazine in 1999. She was a medical internet pioneer having established one of the first medical practice websites in 1997. Dr. Berman also authored a monthly column for Washington Parent Magazine.

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