Jan. 20, 2012 – Common sense should tell people that some of celebrity chef Paula Deen’s infamously unhealthy dishes – a burger topped with a fried egg served between two glazed donuts or a “Fat Darrell Sandwich,” which combines chicken fingers, french fries and breaded mozzarella sticks on a large roll – should not be a routine part of anyone’s diet, diabetic or otherwise.
However, this week pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk has taken some heat over its relationship with newly announced type 2 diabetic Deen, who is known for her decadent, high-fat, high-sugar recipes.
“Bring on the controversy,” says John Kamp, Executive Director of the Coalition for Healthcare Communication. “Who better than a notorious sinner to address the congregation?”
Deen, who recently launched a Web site, http://www.diabetesinanewlight.com, sponsored by Novo Nordisk, has had Type 2 diabetes for three years, but came forward with the information only as the new site went live. She and her sons, Bobby and Jamie Deen, also will be featured in a Novo Nordisk ad campaign which begins Jan. 25.
Many colleagues, media outlets and Deen fans are criticizing her for withholding her status as a diabetic while she continued to promote recipes that do not support a healthy lifestyle. They also appear to find it unseemly that she did not reveal that she was a diabetic until she had become a part of the Novo Nordisk campaign featuring Victoza, which Deen uses to treat her condition.
Some publications also are using this negative feedback as an opportunity to sour the pharmaceutical industry on celebrity endorsements, which is ill-founded, according to Kamp.
“For better or worse, we all listen to celebrities. If Paula Deen helps people recognize the dangers of diabetes, spurs people to pay attention, talk to their doctors and develop better eating habits, then good for her!” Kamp remarked. “As individuals and as a society we need every tool possible to cope with diabetes. Drugs are part of the toolkit, so by all means, let’s talk about it.”
Indeed, as Matthew Herper wrote Jan. 17 on Forbes.com, “it’s just as likely some patients will see Deen as a fellow traveler, different from the doctors and health nuts who are lecturing them about what they eat. Even as the cognoscenti whine about Deen’s cooking, the deal will help Novo-Nordisk sell drugs.”
While Herper contends that the campaign “may cost the drug industry as whole credibility in the long-term,” he also notes that “Novo would not be bothering with Paula Deen if it didn’t think she could help sales. And the fact that the deal went down despite all the naysaying is proof that we haven’t seen the last pharmaceutical ad campaign built around a famous face.”
Camilla Lee, corporate vice president, Diabetes Marketing at Novo Nordisk, said in a statement that the company is “thrilled that Paula, Bobby and Jamie Deen are part of this initiative that helps people embrace diabetes management in a more positive way.”
The American Diabetes Association (ADA) also expects that the company’s ties to the Deens will result in more people seeking treatment for their diabetes. “People may benefit from seeing how others successfully manage type 2 diabetes,” said Geralyn Spollett, MSN, ANP-CS, CDE, president, Health Care & Education of the ADA. “Paula Deen, through her work with ‘Diabetes in a New Light’ is likely to inspire many people living with type 2 diabetes to take a more positive approach to their diabetes care.”
Perhaps in response to the backlash her involvement with the Novo Nordisk campaign, Deen announced Jan. 18 that she is pledging a portion of her earnings from the Novo Nordisk endorsement deal to the ADA.
Bottom line, whether the celebrity is Paula Deen for Victoza or Joan Lunden for Claritin, celebrity endorsements can shed light on common health problems, raise awareness of serious health conditions and lead to more people seeking treatment and looking for lifestyle changes – such as putting a healthier spin on favorite Southern recipes – that can improve patients’ daily lives and long-term prognosis.
“Celebrities are controversial and focus our attention. Let’s hope this controversy helps focus attention on the dangers of diabetes, spurs better doctor/patient conversations, and maybe even sends some of us to the gym,” Kamp said. “Meanwhile, please point me to that healthy french fry recipe. I’m getting hungry.”