We’ve Got the Sugars

Ah, to be rich.  Or at least living in an affluent country.  You go from having to worry about malaria to just getting too fat, such is the conundrum of progress.  In America, we have an epidemic of diabetes.  About 26 million Americans have the disease, a staggering increase since 1995.  This figure represents nearly 10% of the total population.  There’s a few correlations about the disease that can be easily made.  It’s more prevalent where there’s more obesity, less physical activity and more poverty (the American south).

And it’s expensive.  Diabetes is not only a health problem in and of itself, but it can lead to other, and more costly, related health problems.  Joints, the cardiovascular system, the eyes, limb viability, all of these are health issues that can be trigged by the onset or the neglect of treating diabetes.  So we’re paying not just for the diabetes itself, but all of the other health problems to which it leads.  And when I say we, I mean you.  Your insurance premiums are higher than they could be if we took a hard line against diabetes.

Mayor Mike Bloomberg of New York got a lot of flack when he started imposing limits on the size of sugary drinks sold within the city.  His critics charged that he was continuing the expansion of the nanny state, that governments are infantilizing the citizenry to such a point that it’s become offensive, and that the government does not know better than the people who elect it.  Well, when it comes to the consumption of soft drinks (or, as Michiganders like to say, ‘pop’), I disagree.

We have an agricultural policy that subsidizes the production and distribution of sugar and corn syrup.  It’s cheaper than it ought to be.  And Americans are notorious the globe over for their love of sweet flavors.  It’s what we’re used to, and it’s what we as consumers demand.  But, it’s killing us.  Putting limits on the size of sugary beverages that are sold isn’t unreasonable, it’s an appropriate and responsible government response to a problem that’s costing both the states and the Feds $174 billion annually.

Basically, we can’t afford not to act, and hope that Americans, as both consumers and citizens, eventually get their act together.  We do not have the financial luxury of underwriting our obesity for that long.  To do so would be an act of fiscal malpractice, and, worse still, hundreds of thousands of people that would not have to die would.  The choice is clear.  The government should begin crafting policies that curb the spread of not just diabetes, but of all of the communicable diseases that plague affluent countries.  That’s not a nanny state.  It’s called public health policy.


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