Type 2 Tom in the role of his life

Posted by on Oct 10, 2013 in Blog | 0 comments

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So the big news this week in the world of entertainment was that Tom Hanks has Type 2 Diabetes (T2D). I got excited when I saw this. Not in any inhumane, uncaring manner. No, I was excited because I thought about the impact of star power on health issues.

If anyone can deliver a critical, candid, cut through the bullshit message about T2D, it’s Tom Hanks. Right?

There is precedent here too. Michael J Fox pretty much owns the Parkinson’s message. He elevated a disorder “for old people” to something much more than that. He has worked tirelessly to fight a very personal disease in a very public platform. Fox has used his global superstardom to educate the public more effectively than any doctor, professor or government health campaign could hope to achieve.

The way I see it, for the very same reasons that Pepsi uses Beyonce and Parkinson’s needs Fox, Diabetes now needs Hanks. Star power is alluring and the “hey i’m kinda like you (only world famous)” message is the bedrock of a multibillion dollar endorsement industry.

If Beyonce is worth $50 million to Pepsi, Hanks is arguably worth more to the Diabetes message. Kids drink Pepsi, but just one extra glass a day will set them on a path towards T2D.  That’s where Hanks now resides, along with those 1 in 11 of American citizens who have developed diet driven T2D. Overnight, he has found the defining role of his career – as a Diabetes icon.

But Tom hasn’t rehearsed for this role. He doesn’t know his lines yet. When I saw him announce and discuss his diagnosis with Letterman, my excitement waned immediately. With his wit in fifth gear, Hanks summarily dismissed his condition as “manageable.” My thoughts immediately skipped to the very real possibility of an official Diabates billboard campaign (sponsored by Novo Nordisk of course) featuring Hanks. I assure you, the American Diabates Association will have been in touch with his people already (probably because Novo Nordisk will have been in touch with their people!).

The very idea of this horrifies me because the message from “Official Diabetes” is financed by Big Pharma. It is unhelpful at best, arguably harmful and potentially lethal.

To be blunt, T2D should scare the shit out of all of us. This is not some teddy bear type condition that can be easily “managed.” 7 of every 10 Type 2 Diabetics will die from a stroke, heart disease or similar metabolic event. It can blind you, induce vital organ failure and result in the loss of limbs. But no death cert will ever say “Diabetes.”

What Hanks has said so far amounts to “Hey, where’s the insulin?”

Diabates experts and thought leaders like Dr Neville Wellington and New Zealand based GP Dr Pam Olver who are (successfully) advocating a high fat, sugar and grain free diet will be squirming.

Where Fox brought star appeal, humanity, humor and determination to a poorly funded disease we knew little about, Diabetes is a $40 billion per annum Big Pharma rock star; a commercial T Rex.  Should Hanks endorse – complicitly or unconsciously – the Big Pharma sponsored Diabetes mantra, he will be inadvertently peddling a message that will in time dwarf the health impact of the disease that earned him his first Oscar in Philadelphia.

The funny thing is this. Hank’s second Oscar winning character Forrest Gump would probably sit on a bench and ask the right people the right questions.

At some point he would start to run. He would run away from the Big Pharma sponsored Diabetes message because it would make no sense to him. In his gut he would know it’s just plain wrong. He would keep running. Right across America. Until he reached the ocean or found his answer (or Peter Attia MD).

26 million Americans will be viewing Hanks iconic new role with a very keen eye indeed. His voice and his choices will impact millions.

Run Forrest. Run.

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