Thursday, April 12, 2012

Paula Deen Does Not Know Her Blood Sugar Numbers

Paula Deen, the TV celebrity southern-style chef and spokesperson for Novo Nordisk's diabetes treatment Victoza (see "Novo Nordisk Defends Choice of Paula Deen Over Anthony Bourdain (for example) as Celebrity Chef Spokesperson"), recounted for Prevention Magazine how she learned she had type 2 diabetes. Deen is featured on the cover of the May 2012 issue of Prevention (see cover on left).

When asked "How high was that blood sugar reading?" during a routine doctor visit more than 3 years ago, Deen said "I don't know. They just said it was high." Then her doctor said, "I'm going to start you on some medicine," and wham, bam, thank y'all ma'am, Deen started her secret life as a diabetic.

Furthermore, Deen does not remember her doctor saying anything about lifestyle changes. "Now, she might have," said Deen diplomatically, "but I don't recall coming out of that visit with a lot of literature. She just started me on the drug."

It's hard to believe any doctor worthy of treating a wealthy celebrity would not have given her a bit more education regarding living with diabetes. One important bit of education is "Know Your Blood Sugar Levels." That's the title of a National Institutes of Health National Diabetes Education Program pamphlet (see here). "If you have diabetes," says NIH, "keeping your blood glucose (sugar) numbers in your target range can help you feel good today and stay healthy in the future."

After Novo Nordisk approached her to be a spokesperson, Deen "asked the doctor if I could switch over from the [combo drug]" to Victoza. Of course, her doctor complied because Deen knows best, although she doesn't know her numbers (or choses not to say what they are). Or perhaps the doctor was also "approached" by Novo Nordisk.

Whatever! Deen is now taking not only Victoza but also metformin and "a small dose of Actos." I'm not an expert on diabetes treatments, but because Deen is on multiple drugs and because she hasn't revealed her initial high blood glucose reading, we will never know if Victoza is really helping her control her diabetes.

Deen has the right to keep her blood glucose levels and other medical information confidential. She also has the right not to reveal how much money Novo Nordisk is paying her. "I am being compensated for my time and work," said Deen.

But should pharmaceutical companies be required to reveal how much they pay celebrity spokespeople just as they are now required to reveal how much they pay physicians (celebrities or otherwise)? If Nike reveals that it paid Tiger Woods $105 million, why shouldn't pharma companies reveal how much they pay celebrities (including Phil Mickelson who is a paid ENBREL spokesperson; see here)? What are they hiding?
BTW, there seems to be a pattern of pharmaceutical celebrity spokespeople defending themselves in consumer magazines like Prevention. Mickelson, for example, "opened up" in an interview published in Arthritis Today (see "Phil Mickelson 'Opens Up" to Arthritis Today Magazine"). 
Of course, these magazines also make a lot of money from drug advertising. In fact, there is a nice 2-page ad spread for Victoza featuring Paula Deen in the same issue of Prevention as her less than "tell all" interview. In the ad, Deen is NOT depicted creating her famous bacon, cheeseburger, Krsipy Creme donut sandwich! (See the video of THAT here).

In a recent survey, I asked respondents to say whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: "Each pharmaceutical company should be required by law to publicly disclose how much money it pays every celebrity for being a spokesperson." 38% (N=112) said they "strongly agreed, " another 21% said the "somewhat agreed," and 36% said they strongly or somewhat disagreed.

One pharmaceutical company employee respondent made this comment: "What is the point of all this pharma reporting? If I tell you that Paula Deen is making $10M or $1M, what difference does it make? I'm sure she's making a lot of money. But that is driven by her market worth and the specifics of the contract (length of contract, number of events, etc.). There's no realistic way for the public to understand (or care about) that context. So what is the point?"

Full results of the survey will be published in the upcoming April issue of Pharma Marketing News. Subscribe now to get it free!


  1. Anonymous1:41 PM

    I follow your blog and really like it but can't help thinking "who is paying you"? It's certainly not Novo ! I think some of your comments turn into conspiracy theories without evidence....

    1. I guess you haven't bothered to read my profile, which states: "I am not a paid consultant to the pharmaceutical industry, but I occasionally get invited to speak within pharma companies or at industry conferences. For this I receive reimbursement for travel expenses and a nominal speaker fee. As a publisher, I do accept paid advertising mostly from agencies that work for the pharmaceutical industry."

      I am not a regulated industry whose products can mean live and death to its customers. Therefore, who pays me and how much is my business same as Paula Deen's payments is her business and she doesn't need to disclose how much she is paid. However, the pharma industry falls into a different category precisely because their business practices contribute to the high costs of drugs. Payments made to celebrities by pharma are a black box.

      I also note that Deen says she contributes a percentage of her Novo money to ADA but won't mention what percentage let alone exact dollar amount.

      When the drug industry and their "consultants" are so circumspect about the money issue, that feeds conspiracy theories. One theory I haven't mentioned before is that Deen was forced to pay off ADA for its silence regarding whether or not such a person is a worthy diabetes treatment spokesperson.

  2. I also found it interesting that in the on-line versions of the Prevention cover story, the part about Deen not knowing her numbers has been removed!


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