Monday, February 8, 2010

My thoughts on Oprah’s show on diabetes: Part 1

Despite disappointments, I have decided to use Oprah’s show on diabetes as a lesson in awakening.

Oprah Winfrey ran a special episode on diabetes last Thursday, as they called it: “America's Silent Killer”. Anyone who knows me knows that I absolutely adore Oprah and her consciousness-raising show, but lo and behold, I was disappointed by parts of Thursday’s quick fix-it summary of diabetes, along with many in the Type 1 community.

Oprah and her team of doctors, chefs, and personal trainers spent much of the show talking about Type 2 diabetes while also touching upon Type 1 as well.

Dr. Oz, Oprah’s medical guru, was invited to provide a medical description of the disease. Dr. Oz used virtual diagrams of the human body and described how the body digests sugars and the important role of insulin in this process. Of course, he also addressed what happens when the body has too much sugar in its system.

So far, no complaints, and quite frankly, the virtual diagram of how blood sugars affect the body – the scars that affect the heart, the eyes, the kidneys, and circulation from too much sugar - is much more moving and enlightening than the textbooks and pictures we were shown of diabetes in the 1970s, 80s, and even the 90s.

Then, it was time for Oprah and Dr. Oz to really shock the audience and hit home the importance of self-care. Dr. Oz went to visit a 44-year old woman in the hospital with Type 1 who had had both of her legs amputated and was undergoing kidney dialysis. It was painful to watch. I’ve known all my life about diabetic complications. It’s another to watch it on TV. And Dr. Oz asked difficult questions like: When did it hit you? She described what it felt like to lose both legs and began to weep. Who could blame her?

So far, yes, a gripping show, and a huge wake-up call also for someone like me who makes huge efforts to take care of myself.

But then, after watching this woman with Type 1 diabetes crying with two legs gone, we the audience were informed that the show would actually focus on Type 2 diabetes. Why? Good news, 90% of the diabetic cases can be prevented. I felt slighted.

Oprah explained: Type 2 diabetes accounts for 90% of the diabetes population and oftentimes can be reversed with proper diet and exercise. They called it “the silent killer” because many people don’t realize that by mistreating diabetes, they are slowly and silently leading themselves to horrible complications and perhaps even premature death.

I do understand that Oprah and her producers felt it necessary to raise awareness because of the sheer numbers of those with Type 2 diabetes. And quite frankly, a show on Type 2 diabetes was long overdue.

Dr. Oz did say that there are treatments for Type 1 diabetics after defining the differences between Type 1 and Type 2 incorrectly, and not mentioning what the treatments are. But the rest of the show focused on Type 2. The un-reversible were left in the dust.

Bob Greene and Celebrity Fit Club’s Dr. Ian Smith went out to the community, talked about exercise and food with church groups, and then Art Smith, Oprah’s former chef, came out on stage after being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes to show the crowd that he had lost 85 pounds. Wow!

I agree. We should all eat healthy. So why am I upset?

I felt ignored when it mattered most. Why did they show a Type 1 woman with amputated legs on a dialysis machine and then not address it? Why did they suddenly switch to Type 2? I did not expect them to start talking about the different kinds of insulin pumps, but then why freak us out with Type 1 information we already know if you aren’t going to discuss?

This isn’t new. Type 1 diabetics are often left out of the BIG diabetes discussion. Since we ‘only’ account for 10% of the diabetes population, we do not receive as much awareness, education, or funding for Type 1 research. It must feel good to be able to reverse 90% of the diabetes population, but what about the rest of us? And in this case, we didn’t even receive Oprah’s full attention.

I’ve gone through many thoughts on this episode. But as I sit and write this blog, I have come to realize that I can use this situation, the diabetes show and tell, for awakening. That's all I can do. Isn’t that how Oprah would have wanted it?

After four days of pondering, I’ve come up with some theories, but this will take more work. I’ll let you know what I come up with. Hopefully, it will leave us all inspired.


  1. Thanks for your post. Found it very in tune with what many other members of the Diabetes Online Community (particularly Type 1s) have said. I invite you to read not only my blog, but also Kerri Sparling's blog at Six Until Me for what I think is the best-written one on the topic thus far. Some of us are writing letters to the show (among others) about this very topic, possibly pushing for a Type 1-focused show.

  2. Thank you for the comment, Michael. I will definitely check out both of your blogs. I plan to write to the Oprah show as well.