Celebrity Chef and Pharma Unite

January 20, 2012
Stephanie Sutton

Stephanie Sutton was an assistant editor at Pharmaceutical Technology Europe.

Earlier this week, Novo Nordisk launched a diabetes initiative in the US that stars the celebrity chef Paula Deen. Usually, it’s the pharma company that gets the sharp end of the stick when it comes to criticism but this time the negative attention has fallen on Deen, with Norvo Nordisk barely getting a mention in many news sources.

Earlier this week, Novo Nordisk launched a diabetes initiative in the US that stars the celebrity chef Paula Deen. Usually, it’s the pharma company that gets the sharp end of the stick when it comes to criticism but this time the negative attention has fallen on Deen, with Norvo Nordisk barely getting a mention in many news sources.

They’ve also overlooked a lot of the positive aspects of the project. Deen will be offering diabetes-friendly recipes that do not comprise taste and appearing at diabetes cooking events across the US. The initiative is called Diabetes in a New Light.

But if you’re familiar with Deen’s cooking, you’ll be aware that a lot of her dishes are not exactly promotional of a healthy diet (examples include bacon cheeseburger meatloaf and southern fried chicken – you can take a look at the recipes on her website), which is where media criticism has been directed. Deen herself was also diagnosed with Type II diabetes three years ago, but only revealed this to the public this week, another aspect that has attracted criticism since she’s maintained her cooking style, despite the fact that diet is an important part of managing diabetes.

However, Deen makes a good point of saying in a press statement that “diabetes does not have to stop you from enjoying the things you love”.

At a time when obesity is rising, it’s important for us to be aware of healthy food, and chefs need to take some responsibility. Let’s be honest though, most of us don’t want to be healthy all the time, so we want to know how to make the best of our butter!

In their criticism, a lot of news sources have overlooked the contributions Deen is making to the diabetes battle. She claims to have made small dietary changes and to have worked more exercise into her day. Being a celebrity spokesperson for diabetes will also be a good influence – some sources have made snide comments about the connection between Deen’s weight, her recipes and diabetes, which will no doubt influence some people into avoiding unhealthy foods.

And with all the attention being focused on the responsibility of celebrities and chefs to promote healthy eating, Novo Nordisk and the pharmaceutical industry has gotten a bit lost. The pharma industry also has a responsibility to promote good health; indeed, this focus is becoming increasingly important in pharmaceutical business strategies as non-traditional companies, such as food and IT companies, muscle into the healthcare sector. Ernst and Young has a really good report about this trend available on their website.

Even though the diabetes campaign is partly to promote Novo Nordisk’s diabetes drug, Victoza, it’s also a step towards health education. According to one news report, many diabetes patients have trouble managing their diet. Havilah Clarke, senior manager, product communications at Novo Nordisk is quoted in the report as saying, “Based on what were hearing from some primary research we were doing, people living with diabetes thought that food was one of the most difficult challenges to address in their social lives. They thought they had to deprive themselves.”

Whatever Novo Nordisk’s intentions, it remains to be seen whether using Paula Deen will be a successful strategy given the amount of criticism the partnership has received. But there’s no such thing as bad publicity, right?

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