Diabetes and the
trash food industry
By Derrick Z.
Jackson, Boston Globe, January 11,
TYPE 2 DIABETES is
sweeping so rapidly through America we
need not waste time giving children
bicycles. Just roll them a wheelchair.
Forget the basketballs and baseballs.
Give them Braille flash cards. The next
thing you know, iPods, Game Boys and
Xboxes will come with glucose meters,
beeping ''Sorry to interrupt your song
or movie, but it will not continue until
you use me."
One of the saddest,
emerging facts about Type 2 diabetes is
how it is robbing children of their
childhood. It is well on its way to
dropping the overall life expectancy of
Americans. This grim world of
amputations, blindness, heart disease
and kidney failure, once assumed to be
confined to those with wrinkles, has
descended into the tender world.
We have created
this monster by allowing trash food
marketers to prey on our children and by
letting our children disappear into
video screens. The number of Americans
with type-2 diabetes, the kind that can
be controlled by exercise and eating
right, has exploded from 5.8 million in
1980 to 18.2 million today, according to
the Centers for Disease Control and
An American child
born in 2000 has a 1 in 3 chance of
contracting diabetes in his lifetime. An
African American has a 2 in 5 chance. At
current rates, every other Latina born
in 2000 will get the disease. Fast food,
soda and sugar snack companies are well
represented in the Fortune 500, but the
costs on the other end are staggering.
The CDC estimates
that diabetes costs the United States
$92 billion in medical costs and $40
billion in indirect costs, such as
restricted or lost worker productivity.
While diabetics now make up 6.3 percent
of the population, the American Diabetes
Association estimates that the disease
accounts for 19 percent of health
spending in the United States.
So far, none of
that has captured the imagination of
Americans outside of doctors, public
health officials, and those school
districts that have kicked out the soda
machines. That is, except for
pharmacies, super stores and the medical
supplies industry which are gearing up
for the miserable fallout.
In one of its 2005
reports, the marketing information firm
IRI said that sufferers of diabetes,
obesity, and high cholesterol are
''ideal targets for retailer and
manufacturer programs aimed at driving
sales growth. Many ailments such as
diabetes and high cholesterol are
regularly treated with prescription
medication. For retailers and
manufacturers, this translates to
frequent shopping trips and thus,
countless opportunities to build
relationships and drive non-prescription
In the case of
diabetics, the ''relationship" would be
built around low-sugar, low-carbohydrate
and low-fat foods and beverages. It also
means that the expanding racks for
diabetes management supplies, such as
insulin, syringes and blood sugar meters
also mean more customers who buy other
items in the stores. ''This is a hotly
competitive area for retailers,"
Kerrylyn Whalen Rodriguez, a diabetes
specialist for ShopKo's pharmacies, told
the trade publication Retail
Merchandiser. ''You are serving a niche
that is needed for patient care but is
also a huge sales driver. It's not just
the right thing to do, it's profitable."
Ed Staffa, vice
president of member services for the
National Association of Chain Drug
Stores, added in Retail Merchandiser,
''These are repeat patients. On an
ongoing basis, the same individuals
purchase products month in, month out.
If you are able to engage them as a
patient initially, you have their
patronage for the rest of their life."
waits for the diseased to fall to them,
the greater story is tragic. The nation
our children are being born into is one
in which they are more likely to be
acquainted with sugar test strips than
final exams in college.
marketing and perfect bodies thrown at
youth in the name of fashion will become
a mockery as the young grow old before
the age of 50, with brittle nails,
callouses, over-sensitive skin, balding
scalps, punctured bodies and of course,
The nation has not
yet had the courage to stand up against
trash food and has forgotten how to send
our kids out to play. The bodies of our
young are becoming trash and there is no
time to play.