The media and Internet have been aflutter with the news that celebrity chef Paula Deen has Type 2 diabetes and will be the new spokeswoman for a diabetes drug. 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 publicly admit to having diabetes and for now profiting from the health condition. Deen has said that she hopes to educate Americans on diabetes and wants to help them to better manage the condition.

The Facts About Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

Diabetes is a big issue in America. This condition 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 such as medication, medical conditions, or surgery), says Megan Fendt, registered dietitian for the Friedman Diabetes Institute.

Megan Fendt Talks Diabetes

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 of 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.

How to Prevent and Treat Diabetes

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 in 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 any 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!

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