I recently watched a television ad featuring a pretty, happy woman with a beautiful voice singing and dancing about the wonder of a diabetes pill that keeps her healthy and lowers her A1C. The only problem was that the actress was morbidly obese. The ad featured a catchy tune and an upbeat message to let Type 2 diabetes sufferers know that all they had to do was take this pill to manage their disease.
Yet doctors know that the main determinants of Type 2 diabetes are being overweight and having a genetic predisposition. Despite the implication of the ad, there’s no cure for Type 2 diabetes. Instead doctors recommend first that patients lose weight, eat well, and exercise to manage their Type 2 diabetes. If diet and exercise aren’t enough, then they prescribe medications or insulin therapy.
Instead, this ad implies that you can manage your diabetes by taking a pill. You can remain obese and ignore the hard stuff: losing weight, eating less sugar, and exercise. Instead, just skip right to the pill.
Some of these diabetes drugs are being targeted for weight loss (Ozempic, Wegovy, Mounjaro). They work by mimicking a hormone that tells the brain that the body is full and by slowing digestion, causing the stomach to keep its contents longer. With these drugs, people are reporting impressive weight losses. Unfortunately, after patients stop taking them, the weight returns and experts are suggesting that using these drugs to maintain weight may be a lifetime commitment. Oprah Winfrey, who has been very public about her weight loss struggles, now admits to taking one of these drugs to lose and maintain her new weight.
I get it. It is no fun to have to carefully manage the foods we eat. So far, it has taken me a year to safely lose 15 pounds. People taking the medications typically lose 5 pounds a month!
One of my New Year’s resolutions is to exercise to improve my flexibility, strength, and reduce pain. My primary mode of transportation is the bicycle. I use it exclusively in Key West and usually in St Michaels to run errands or go to the market. But this year, I noticed that my lack of flexibility and poor balance were making cycling a riskier proposition, so I knew that I had to change.
I have almost completed a 30-day program for improving flexibility and balance (this will need to be maintained daily). I have noticed marked changes in my posture (I have “grown” an inch since starting) and flexibility. I have significantly less pain. I can do my gardening, yard work, cleaning, sewing, and other tasks much easier than I could before. I feel better than I have in a long time.
And I hate it.
I hate these exercises with a passion. They are boring as (fill in expletive here). The exercises take only 30 minutes a day…yet only an incredible amount of self-discipline, self identified rewards and punishment keep me going.
Despite the amazing results.
But when I watched that commercial, did I wish there was a pill to fix my issues? Of course.
In some ways, as a country, we have developed a “there’s a pill for that” mentality. And advertising is feeding it.
Because discipline, controlled eating, regular exercise, and a healthy lifestyle are harder and less rewarding than a hot fudge sundae.
Advertising is encouraging us to enjoy sweets, eat fatty, salty (and frankly) delicious foods. And when those give us bad results, there is more advertising to tell us that there is a pill or an injection or a program to fix that.
I know that I must continue this healthy lifestyle because it is the right thing to do.
But do I wish there was a pill for that? Sadly, yes.
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.