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What We Can Learn From the Paula Deen Controversy: Diabetes in the U.S.


The media and internet has been aflutter with the news that celebrity chef Paula Deen has Type 2 diabetes and will be the new spokeswoman for a diabetes drug. While plenty of people — including her possibly biggest critic of all, fellow chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain — have criticized Deen for taking three years to publically admit to having diabetes and for now profiting from the health condition, Deen has said that she hopes to educate Americans on diabetes wants to help them to better manage the condition. 

And diabetes is a big issue in America. Diabetes affects about 25.8 million people in America or about 8 percent of the total population. Type 1 diabetes accounts for 5 percent of those cases (about 1.3 million people), while Type 2 accounts for 90 percent (the remaining 5 percent of diabetes cases may be caused by factors like medication, medical conditions or surgery), says Megan Fendt, registered dietitian for the Friedman Diabetes Institute.

While there are very few instances of diabetes that can be attributed to either lifestyle or genetics alone, the development of Type 2 diabetes has a much stronger link to our exercise habits, eating patterns and weight than Type 1 diabetes does, Fendt says.

 "As a certified diabetes educator, I would recommend that Paula focus on tweaking her eating and exercise habits; adding fresh (preferably unbuttered) vegetables to each meal and being physically active for just 20 minutes per day can help her achieve a healthy weight and optimal blood sugar control," she says. "Quitting smoking, if she hasn't already, will also greatly improve her overall health and reduce her risk for cardiovascular complications." 

Type 2 diabetes does have a stronger link to genetics than Type 1 diabetes, which Deen has pointed out in media interviews. For example, in identical twins, if one twin has Type 1 diabetes, there is a 50 percent chance that the other twin will develop Type 1 diabetes, too. However, with Type 2 diabetes, that risk is as high as 90 percent, Fendt says.

While there is no cure for Type 1 diabetes and the only medication for it is insulin, Type 2 is manageable by keeping your blood sugar in control through healthy eating, exercise and medications, she says.   

"Oral medications are effective in helping to control blood sugars in Type 2 diabetes," Fendt says. "But lifestyle modifications are always our first line of prevention and treatment for this disease."

The good news to all of this? If you — like Paula Deen — are at high risk for Type 2 diabetes due to your age, ethnicity or family history, lifestyle changes can cut your risk of developing the disease by up to 58 percent!

"It is critical that every person with diabetes seeks the guidance of a certified diabetes educator and an endocrinologist who specializes in diabetes," Fendt says. "Diabetes is a multifaceted condition that requires you to learn a lot of new information very quickly, but the silver lining is that the diagnosis can light a fire in you, pushing you to make positive changes and get healthier than you ever would have otherwise!" 
If there's one thing that can come out of this whole Paula Deen controversy, we certainly hope it's a healthier America!


Jennipher Walters is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites and A certified personal trainer, lifestyle and weight management coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and regularly writes about all things fitness and wellness for various online publications.


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