The admission that Paula Deen, the queen of all that is battered, fried, sugared and generally unhealthy, has Type 2 Diabetes is flooding the social media and news networks. The fact that she has had diabetes for the last three years, while continuing to promote unhealthy living, adds insult to injury. Now the announcement that she is promoting Novo Nordisk’s Victoza to treat Diabetes, alongside her unhealthy lifestyle is just wrong. I’m not here to lambaste Ms. Deen’s choices, or maybe I am, but is it really so difficult for us as human beings to take responsibility for our actions or is everything about the almighty dollar?
Actions have consequences. It is that simple.
Newton’s third law of motion, every action has an equal and opposite reaction, is as relevant to the biological world as it is to the physical world. Maybe not directly in terms of force and maybe not as obviously as in the physical world, but one cannot add something to an environment without expecting a reaction and in the case of biochemistry, lots and lots of compensatory reactions. No, we can’t eat crap and expect not to be unhealthy. No, we cannot coat everything with BPA, phthalates or other endocrine disruptors and expect not to have hormone problems. No, we can’t sit on our butts all day, not exercise and expect not to have back and other problems. And there are no magic pills to make this so, no matter what slick advertisements tell us.
We don’t expect celebrities to be role models. We give them a pass. Although, I’m not sure why as citizens of the human race celebrities shouldn’t be held to the same accord as everyone else. Shouldn’t we all strive to present our best, most ethical selves? Whether we choose to judge Ms. Deen or not does not discount the fact that Novo Nordisk is choosing to market a drug using a celebrity who promotes unhealthy eating, the same unhealthy eating that leads to Type 2 Diabetes in the first place; talk about wrap around marketing.
What I don’t understand is why we, as educated individuals, tolerate this type of marketing. More importantly, why are those who are trained in medicine, biochemistry or related fields and whose job it is to care for our health so easily swayed by this same advertising towards things that are so obviously unhealthy?
Perhaps it is about the money after all.
Propublica reports that 12 pharma companies spent at least $760 million dollars in 2010 to physicians and other professionals for promotional speaking, consulting, research and other expenses on the drug companies’ behalf. This represents only those dollars reported and only about 40% of the total dollars spent by the industry. The British Medical Journal reports, that at least 20% of all peer-reviewed journal articles in major medical journals are ghostwritten and paid for by pharma. And finally, because the FDA has remained underfunded for years, it now must charge the very companies it seeks to regulate. These are inherent conflicts of interests that cannot be ignored. How else would drugs like Victoza that have questionable efficacy and potentially promote thyroid cancer receive approval? How else would the marketing of this drug, which implies one can eat southern comfort food and still prevent diabetes, be approved? With these data, can anyone in the health industry be trusted?
Dictionary.com defines trust as: ‘reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence’. We rely on the purveyors of medical information to give us the truth. We rely on the federal agencies overseeing these industries to protect us from dangerous drug and devices. We trust that our personal physicians are working in our best interest. We believe that medications and sanctioned health information are true, accurate and safe. Maybe we shouldn’t.
It’s clear that there are enormous conflicts of interests between physicians, researchers and the industry that pays their bills. Despite many recent efforts to curtail these conflicts, many major institutions have failed. Should we be surprised then, when these ethical breaches trickle down to talk show hosts and celebrities? Probably not, but we should be disappointed in ourselves for buying the snake oil and not taking personal responsibility for our poor diet and lifestyle choices.
I write a lot about physicians and pharma. It may look as though I am against traditional medicine or against modern chemistry and therapeutics. That is not true. I am against the mega marketing that obfuscates both the efficacy and safety of many medications. I am against those who blindly believe or not so blindly profit from the medical misinformation that permeates today’s healthcare system. We cannot have our cake and eat it too. It just does not work that way.