By Paolo von Schirach
August 31, 2011
WASHINGTON – Washington think tanks and the US Congress through the new ad hoc House-Senate committee on spending and the deficit debate what to do to curtail ultra expensive federal health care programs, (Medicare for the elderly, Medicaid for the poor). Meanwhile, the Atlanta based Centers for Disease Control, (CDC), comes up with disheartening findings indicating once more that Americans indulge in very unhealthy dietary habits that ruin their health and end up causing totally preventable diseases that –guess what– end up costing billions of dollars every year.
Bad diet costs money
And these huge costs then become a political issue as the Federal Government is in debt in large part because of the growing costs associated with the growing cost of health care programs. Bottom line: bad diet ruins your health and the nation’s finances. Lumped together, public and private health care costs absorb now about 17.5% of America’s GDP, an astronomic amount that is more than 1/3 higher than the average spending of other rich nations. Believe it or not, a huge chunk of this spending has to do with the medical consequences of bad diet.
Americans drink too many sugary sodas
A major bad dietary habit, documented by a just releases CDC study, is that Americans drink too many sugary sodas. You might think that this does not sound like much of anything. But it is, because sodas are loaded with sugar. On average a can contains the equivalent of 10 to 12 tea spoons of sugar. Too much sugar ingested regularly, as part of the every day diet, is essentially like a low level poison. For this reason, the daily recommended amount is no more than half a soda per person. Cutting down on these sweetened drinks is strongly recommended in order to cut down on excessive sugar consumption.
But few seem to follow good advice. According to the CDC findings, half the American population drinks on average about one sugary soda a day. And since this an average, many are drinking a lot more, with larger quantities consumed by young males, African Americans and lower income people. So, the young, the minorities and the poor are those indulging the most and thus most likely to suffer long term health consequences due to this overuse.
Too many sodas lead to higher health care costs?
But what does this have to do with health care costs? A lot, because plenty of sugar loaded sodas are an integral part of a hyper caloric, unhealthy diet, heavy on starch, fat and sugar, preferred by tens of millions of Americans. And it is now firmly established that a bad, hypercaloric diet leads to obesity, cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes and more. It follows that people contracting these diet induced chronic diseases are in need of medical care. And all this health care costs money. A Lot of money. The estimates are that it costs more than 200 billion a year to treat obesity induced diseases.
Change the basic American diet: health gains, lower health care costs
Cutting down on soda drinks and drinking instead plain water would be no magic bullet. But it would help a lot, especially as part of broader efforts aimed at educating people on how to eat healthy food. It appears that some US hospitals are trying to lead by example, by stopping to have on their premises vending machines that sell sodas, offering instead non sugary products. It is about time.
Needless to say, the American Beverage Association, the soda industry main lobbying group, says that these CDC findings are untrue or at least grossly exaggerated. But what else would you expect from Coca-Cola, Pepsi-Cola and all the other groups that make money by inducing bad habits? Remember for how long tobacco companies tried to make the case that cigarette smoking was essentially harmless?