The tsunami that threatens to swamp the world’s health care systems is not about aging Boomers. What is rolling inexorably our way will make the temporary wave of that aging cohort look like a low tide. We are killing the kids.
Two of the major bullets fired at our kids are diabetes and obesity and their long-term consequences.
A study published April 29th by the New England Journal of Medicine raises the specter that Type 2 diabetes in children is virtually uncontrollable through drugs or lifestyle interventions. They predict some combination of drugs and possibly insulin dependency lie ahead for these young people.
Type 2 diabetes was an adult disease until 10 or 15 years ago. Generally linked with poor diet and lack of exercise, it could often be kept under control through lifestyle changes. Now millions of children have been diagnosed with what used to be called “adult-onset diabetes.”
In Canada, where Type 2 diabetes in First Nations communities was virtually unknown forty years ago, children as young eight are being diagnosed. The same thing is happening in countries around the world, as people move from traditional foods and embrace a western diet.
The health care implications are horrifying. Among long-term complications of Type 2 diabetes are cardiovascular disease, retinal disease and possible loss of vision, coronary artery disease, neuropathy (nerve damage, usually in the legs and feet), and kidney disease.
The earlier diabetes strikes, the greater the costs, both in dollars and in quality of life.
Childhood obesity is often linked to early onset of Type 2 diabetes, but even those children who manage to avoid it can be hit with other weight-related health problems. These include some cancers (especially uterus, cervix, ovaries, breast, colon, rectum and prostate), high blood pressure, sleep apnea, high cholesterol, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, depression, skin problems, infertility and osteoarthritis.
Michelle Obama focused on childhood obesity early in her tenure as First Lady. She challenged the food and beverage industries to reduce the excess sugar and salt in their products. She might as well have thrown a party for them, for all the support she received.
Industry’s response was to step up lobbying efforts. A new report from Reuters details just how effective they were.
Lobbying records analyzed by Reuters reveal that the industries more than doubled their spending in Washington during the past three years. In the process, they largely dominated policymaking — pledging voluntary action while defeating government proposals aimed at changing the nation’s diet, dozens of interviews show.
The Reuters report points out the Center for Science in the Public Interest spent a grand total of $70,000 lobbying for healthier food last year. CSPI is one of the most effective consumer-interest organizations in the States, but their $70,000 represents what those who oppose stricter guidelines spend every 13 hours.
Congress did not support the First Lady. Neither did the White House. When Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) chided the White House for going “wobbly in the knees,” senior policy advisor and assistant chef Sam Kass responded, “We are incredibly proud of the commitments that many food companies have made…”
Right, and I have a bridge to sell you, Mr. Kass. Voluntary commitments have never been more than public relations proclamations for an industry that places profits over the health of people or the planet.
Other Ways of Killing Our Kids
We did not set out to kill our children, but that is what we are doing. Obesity and diabetes are end results of industry and regulatory systems that refuse to accept responsibility for the consequences of their decisions.
They are natural outcomes of creating environments where physical activity is discouraged. They stem from the widespread use of harmful chemicals. They are promoted through advertising junk food to children and government’s unwillingness to regulate it. They are linked to subsidies that support commodity crops instead of vegetables.
We even export the conditions that are killing our children, as Dr. David Wallinga and his colleagues at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy point out in Exporting Obesity: How U.S. farm and trade policy is transforming the Mexican food environment. The report focuses on one country, but the story is similar around the globe, and at home.
Drawing a Line in the Sand
We all draw our own lines in the sand. We bump up against something we find intolerable and say, “No more.”
Killing our children is intolerable. It is time for us to draw a line in the sand. We can insist companies stop undermining our children’s health, stop poisoning the environment, stop misusing water, soil and air.
We adults have not been able to do that for ourselves. We have caved in to moneyed interests and allowed ourselves to be seduced by false promises. We have allowed governments to slash needed services and oversight.
Let’s show more backbone. Let’s stop killing the kids.
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Photo 1 from tgolf_69 via Flickr Creative Commons; photos 2 and 3: Thinkstock