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Oprah’s Outpouring: A Bittersweet Commentary on Responses to Her Diabetes Show

Feb 20, 2010

Theresa_GarneroTheresa Garnero, APRN, BC-ADM, MSN, CDE


On January 6, 2010, an Oprah producer consulted me about the upcoming show on diabetes. It was a thrill, but when I learned the show’s premise (using complications caused by uncontrolled diabetes to motivate people into action), I suggested adding balance to the program by showcasing the diabetes care team and self-care behaviors so viewers would be left with tools and hope. Okay, so I didn’t make the panel!

In sharing the inside scoop of the upcoming show with colleagues and our patient population at the Center for Diabetes Services at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, I never imagined it would strike such a chord nor the response of over 100 emails.

In a word? Bittersweet — with the accent on the first syllable.

At least she started the conversation. Here’s a snap shot of some of the commentary and conversations.

From diabetes care professionals:

  • I liked it. It was one of the first shows that allowed us to “see” diabetes.
  • Consider a follow-up show that illustrates a more positive side of diabetes management, tells another story — complications can be prevented with the help of a team, education and support.
  • A client emailed me saying she watched Dr. Oz and is now afraid if she eats anything with carbs she is going to lose limbs. I am wondering how many more emails I will be responding to to calm people down!
  • I think they had a very specific purpose in mind — to wake up the African American community, who are living with “resignation” that they will develop diabetes.
  • One thumb up, one thumb down.
  • If this was about awareness, then mention those with a high prevalence rates (Asians/Pacific Islanders/Native Americans) and use the ADA criteria for screening, not just tell those with symptoms to get tested as so many people don’t have symptoms. Then what? See a CDE!
  • The condescending tone, blaming patients, threatening insulin is so yesteryear and set our profession back decades.
  • Constantly saying “Ooh, you’re going to have a heart attack” may scare us into action for a while, but it is not a foundation for lasting change. I would be far more motivated by a positive message of “this is what you can do” and by some understanding of the emotional reality of living with it.
  • I’m so disappointed that she chose not to interview true specialists in diabetes on the show. I’m still pissed about it.
  • I was very disappointed that they did not include CDE’s but focused on “threats of death, fear, etc.” She made an F grade on this show. Dr. Oz has turned into a showman — the physician was fear-mongering. Sad!
  • Terms used by Dr. Oz show his ignorance (several references to war in the body — imagine waking up every morning in a Civil War!). Please, do justice. Do a part 2. Show the positive.
  • Sugar, sugar, sugar — not one push for veggies!
  • Your message has opened up a lot of discussion.
  • If they wanted to save lives, talk about endocrinologists and diabetes educators!
  • I had a former patient called me in tears due to the amputation shown.
  • The Oprah show missed the boat. The information I took from the show is that all you need to do is avoid eating anything white, splash a little vinegar on everything, and diabetes and obesity are cured. I felt a lot of blame placed on patients.
  • Scaring people into good behavior is so misguided. If Oprah wants to open a can of worms and scare the country into good behavior then make it accurate. To tell half the story and frighten people like that — doesn’t excuse Oprah for doing a half hack job. It was a cheap carnival scare tactic. I was really disappointed and frankly angry, especially at the amputation section. It brought back horrific images when I was 9, “If you’re a good girl, this won’t happen to you.”
  • It managed to momentarily revive all my own fears about getting diabetic complications. I tried to give all that up decades ago. If her show did that to me (and I wrote the book on living long and well with diabetes), imagine what it did to others emotionally…. I just don’t think that is the best way to motivate people to take better care of their diabetes. I do like the increased awareness, but I’m not sure how long that will last.
  • It will be nice to see an honest show about what it is REALLY like to have this disease. I’m tired of hearing about all these so-called people in the world “living well” with diabetes, when most of us are struggling to motivate ourselves to keep doing what we need to year after year. She should talk about the depression and exhaustion that goes with this disease. It’s like being on a constant biggest loser program for 20, 30, 50 years. You just do not feel well unless you exercise like a farm animal EVERY day. It’s a HASSLE.
  • Scare tactics don’t work! Real stories from real people do.
  • Typical MD perspective did not go into the fact that it is food — not just sugar that you need to account for in the Diabetic Diet.
  • I am really scared. Maybe I should stop all carbs or I’ll lose my legs.
  • Show people that it is manageable and you can live a perfectly normal life.
  • The rhythmic swooshing sound of the dialysis machine sure made for great TV!

Yes, Oprah started the dialogue. Hopefully she will continue it with accurate messages, show people with diabetes living healthy lives as a way to inspire others, give viewers actionable and research-based steps they can take — not only to prevent Type 2 for the many at risk individuals — but how to control it, no matter the type.

Please continue the conversation. That would be sweet.

Theresa Garnero, APRN, BC-ADM, MSN, CDE wrote and illustrated the innovative, three-time nationally award-winning book published by the American Diabetes Association, “Your First Year With Diabetes: What to Do, Month by Month. This book helps both the newly diagnosed and those who wish to revamp their self-management game plan.This book is packed with science in an easy-to-follow, interactive format, and Garnero uses a motivational “can do” approach alongside the visual icons she created to navigate through a year’s worth of self-care behaviors.