Is Novo's Deen-on-diabetes campaign brilliant--or insane?
Chef and "butter queen" Paula Deen as a diabetes-drug spokeswoman? Well, she is famous. She's attracted microphones and spotlights nonstop since word surfaced that she has Type 2 diabetes. And she does use Novo Nordisk's ($NVO) injectable drug Victoza to treat her disease. But choosing Deen to rep a diabetes drug seems designed for a backlash.
In fact, the backlash began even before Deen and Novo announced their partnership. Word leaked that Deen would team up with a drugmaker to rep a diabetes treatment--Novartis ($NVS), people said--and the jokes began. This is a woman, the Atlantic Wire points out, whose recipes include the Fat Darrell Sandwich, the Deep-Fried Bagel Sandwich, and the already notorious Lady's Brunch Burger, which uses glazed donuts instead of a regular white-bread bun (which is bad enough as it is).
So, Novo has set itself up for an accusation common in the drug business: That companies promote drugs as fast fixes for chronic problems best addressed with lifestyle changes--or at least a combination of medication and lifestyle. Deen promoting Victoza is tantamount to saying that it doesn't matter what you eat or whether you're overweight, because the right medication will counteract the Deep-Fried Lasagna and Deep-Fried Chocolate Pound Cake you ate last night.
Deen answered the inevitable questions by saying: "Honey, I'm your cook, not your doctor," adding that she's always "encouraged moderation." She immediately drew fire from celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, who has called her "the most dangerous person to America," partly because she waited for three years to disclose her diagnosis. According to People magazine, Bourdain was inundated with requests for quotes, and he didn't disappoint. "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 said.
We were encouraged by USA Today's report that Novo had actually contacted Deen some time ago, challenging her to develop some diabetes-friendly recipes. The press release says she is making lifestyle changes of her own. Best case scenario: Deen gets into really good shape and unveils some delicious, healthy recipes, inspiring other diabetes patients to follow suit. And with the U.S. "diabetes belt" spread across the South, having a Southern belle offering healthy advice could be a public-health initiative.
But the press release also quotes her as saying that "managing diabetes does not have to stop you from enjoying the things you love." If you love fruit, vegetables, fish, and other healthy foods, yes. If you love Deep-Fried Chocolate Pound Cake, not so much.