Jan. 17, 2012 -- Despite knowing her Type 2 diabetes diagnosis for years, Paula Deen, the all-smiles cooking host of the Food Network's "Paula's Best Dishes," continued touting her buttery, artery-clogging Southern down-home cuisine.
Deen, 64, confirmed today on NBC's Today Show that she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes three years ago and she is now launching a new campaign, "Diabetes in a New Light." The campaign is in partnership with diabetes drug maker Novo Nordisk.
"I made the choice at the time to keep it close to me, to keep it close to my chest," she told USA Today. "I felt like I had nothing to offer anybody other than the announcement. I wasn't armed with enough knowledge. I knew when it was time, it would be in God's time."
Deen reportedly treats her diabetes with the company's drug Victoza, a daily injectable drug that is meant to maintain blood sugar levels. She will appear in an advertisement for the drug later this month, USA Today reported.
Anthony Bourdain, a New York-based chef and host of the Travel Channel's "No Reservations," has long been critical of Deen's cuisine, having told TV Guide that the chef is the "worst, most dangerous person in America" because of her high-fat cooking. In the wake of her diabetes announcement, Bourdain had even more criticism to sling.
"When your signature dish is hamburger in between a doughnut, and you've been cheerfully selling this stuff knowing all along that you've got Type 2 Diabetes... It's in bad taste if nothing else," he told Eater.
Others welcomed the announcement.
"She need not stop cooking, but she should probably eat that way only rarely," said Keith Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine. "Her recipes often fall into the category of once-a-month cooking...The woman has a deep-fat fryer in her kitchen. That's a red flag if there ever was one."
About 26 million Americans live with diabetes. It is a chronic disease in which blood-sugar levels are abnormally high in the body, and most people are overweight or obese at the time of diagnosis. In 2007, diabetes was listed as the underlying cause of more than 71,000 deaths, according to the American Diabetes Association. At the rate that Americans are getting diagnosed and becoming increasingly obese, experts say the number of new diabetes cases is expected to double by 2050.
"This announcement simply supports the evidence that shows Type 2 diabetes increases in risk with age and weight," said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University at St. Louis. "Many baby boomers are reaching the point where facts about disease risk will become realities in their lives."
"I know the heavy Southern cuisine is her trademark, but I'd love to see her keep the tradition while lightening up the preparation," said Diekman. "Showing others how to maintain the flavor while changing the preparation or ingredients would be a big help for many. She can certainly maintain her traditional cooking, but not only say 'eat in moderation,' she could say 'eat less often.'"
Paula Deen Doesn't Fear Jokes About Her Recipes
Type 2 diabetes most commonly results when someone with a genetic predisposition to the condition is obese and physically inactive, said Carla Wolper, senior clinical nutritionist at the New York Obesity Research Center at St. Luke's Hospital in Manhattan.
"Diabetes is the most expensive illness to treat," said Wolper. "It does not go away and requires drugs every day, and often many drugs... The obesity and diabetes in the US is costing us all a fortune, and causing health insurance costs to skyrocket. Should Paula Deen lose a lot of weight and influence others to do so, and should she show those who watch her show how to do it, she could become a goddess."
Deen acknowledged that she hopes to spread awareness and help others fight the illness. She has already made small dietary changes and has worked more exercise into her day.
"I wasn't trying to lose weight," she told USA Today. "I don't even own a scale. I go strictly by the way I feel and the way my clothes feel." When she's out, she said people often say, "Gosh you're not nearly as fat in person."
Despite her efforts, she acknowledged she may be at the butt end of criticism and jokes after her announcement, but she claims she doesn't care.
"I don't care what the haters and naysayers say," Deen told the newspaper. "If they make jokes about me, I'll laugh because they'll probably be funny."