Oprah and Dr. Oz on Diabetes

Did Oprah and Dr. Oz really want to save your life, or just scare you to death?

Sheri Colberg-Ochs By Sheri Colberg-Ochs, PhD

How many of you saw the episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" about the diabetes problem that aired on February 4, 2010 titled "America's Silent Killer: Oprah and Dr. Oz Want to Save Your Life?" While I appreciated the overall message of the show—diabetes is a big problem, and Americans need to sit up and take notice before it's too late—as a person with diabetes myself, I really did not care for their approach to the topic.

Yes, Americans need to know about the diabetes epidemic, and they need to realize that this disease is neither going away anytime soon nor is it one that anyone can afford to ignore. The show focused mainly on how poor lifestyle choices contribute to the onset of type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, it was very misleading on several important points, and a lot of misinformation was disseminated to the viewing public.

Just for starters, at one point Dr. Oz talked about how diabetes is going to bankrupt the healthcare system, and he stated how expensive diabetes is to treat. Actually, treating diabetes itself is not nearly as expensive as paying for the health complications of uncontrolled blood sugars. Kidney disease, blindness, amputations, nerve damage, heart disease—these are some of the possible complications of diabetes, but not inevitable ones, especially with preventative care, which is what the show failed to focus on.

Recently, our own research has shown that many diabetic complications—simple ones like foot ulcers, amputations, and falls related to unstable gait—can be prevented with a simple, six-week program of balance training and easy resistance workouts. What's more, it has long been known that the 57 million Americans with prediabetes can cut their risk of developing diabetes in the first place with lifestyle changes. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) study found that doing 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily and aiming for weight loss of 5-7% with positive dietary changes can lower diabetes risk by 58 percent in high-risk individuals, especially the older ones. This is old news by now, but we can't afford to forget it. A recent 10-year follow-up of DPP patients found that the benefits from lifestyle improvements persisted for at least a decade, keeping diabetes risk 34 percent lower.

At another point, Dr. Oz misleadingly stated that the more insulin you take, the worse your diabetes is. How many of you actually believe that? While I believe he was trying to make the point that if your insulin resistance is higher, you will need more insulin to keep your blood sugars in check, his was a completely outdated statement that the medical community abandoned at least a decade ago. It scares people into thinking that if they are required to go on insulin they have a "bad case of diabetes," that they have failed somehow, and that they are to blame. On the contrary, recent research has shown that many with type 2 diabetes can benefit immensely from early use of insulin injections in place of oral medications. Everyone with type 1 diabetes is required to take insulin to replace this hormone that their bodies are no longer able to produce—just to stay alive and manage their blood sugars, not because their diabetes is worse.

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Last Modified Date: February 16, 2013

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