The number of children with Type 2 diabetes has more than tripled since 1980. The epidemic tracks a similar increase in childhood obesity exactly. Not only can these conditions ruin these children’s lives, and kill them young. The chief cause is the amount of sugar we eat every day.
Eating sugar is an individual choice that burdens the whole society with higher taxes and insurance premiums, overcrowded hospitals, disability benefits, and lost productivity. You can decide to eat it, but the rest of us can’t opt out of paying for it’s consequences, including Type 2 diabetes and its complications.
The USDA estimates the average American eats 200 tons of sugar in a lifetime. The body also absorbs alcohol and processed flour (white bread, pasta, starches) as glucose — sugar. Even packaged “whole wheat bread” contains white flour.
Type 2 diabetes can cause blindness, stroke, cardiovascular disease, other major deteriorating conditions, and early death. The longer you have it, the more likely those terrible outcomes are. So Type 2 Diabetes in childhood is a serious long-term health problem.
Type 2 diabetes is no longer a disease of old age. Eating sugar is definitely a public concern, not just a personal preference.
Avoiding Sugar Is Not Always Easy
Avoiding sugar is not so easy because the food industry sneaks it into practically everything we eat. Who puts sugar in egg salad? I was horrified to learn recently that the fresh stuff I bought at my deli counter contains sugar and high fructose corn syrup, sugar by another name.
When I asked, the clerk didn’t know, but was required to tell me. She went out back and looked at the big container they get from the wholesaler, which listed the ingredients, including sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Customers never see that big tub, and don’t know the ingredients unless they ask.
Type 2 Diabetes is Epidemic Among Children
Type 2 diabetes used to strike in old age, when the body’s ability to absorb sugar slowed down or
became erratic. Most people who get it when they’re old die before it can kill them young, before they develop the worst complications.
When children get Type 2 Diabetes, they have to monitor it all their lives, often take medication, and live with the fear of crippling side effects and early death.
Hiding Sugar in Children’s Fruit Juice
We know about the sugar in children’s cereal, soft drinks, Twinkies, and other junk food. What about the empty sugar and white flour in the pop-tarts they substitute for a healthy breakfast?
How about the sugar in the sippy-cups of fruit juice parents give their kids because they are healthier than soda pop? How much fruit is in those things, which are mostly water, sugar, and artifical fruit flavor? I’ll bet many of the best parents, who think soda is bad and fruit juice is good, don’t know what’s in that juice..
If you want your kids to drink fruit juice, you pretty much have to buy fresh fruit, and squeeze it yourself. Some frozen concentrate (orange juice at least) is just fruit, but you have to read the ingredients on the label carefully. They are hard to find, and in small print.
An anti-sugar movement is forming
People and government are taking notice of the obesity and Type 2 diabetes epidemics, especially among children. They are becoming active, aroused, and taking steps. Schools are removing soda machines and changing menus in the cafeteria.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City wants to ban super-sized sugary soft drinks (more than 16 oz). and require fast food chains to serve water or milk with their kids‘ meals insted of soda.
Richmond VA, where more than half the schoolchildren are overweight or obese, has a one-cent tax on soda and junk food on the November ballot. The money would be earmarked for public education campaigns about sugar and nutrition.
At first, these proposals sound extreme, anti-democratic, anti-choice, and as enforceable as Prohibition in the 1920’s. But Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Health at New York University, who writes about the politics of food, says maybe not.
Telling people what’s good for them won’t change behavior because the message can’t be heard above the millions of dollars the food and sugar industry spend on advertising that associates their sweet products with pleasure, Ms. Nestle says.
That message reinforces the unconscious message the dopamine and opioid (pleasure) centers of our brains send us when we consume sugar.
Nestle says these proposals don’t limit choice. People can still buy all the soda they want, but it will cost more and be lesss convenient than the non-sugar alternative.
Her theory is that these measures will make non-sugar the default choice. When people have to ask, and pay extra, for the sugar choice, most won’t bother, she says.
I’ve joined the anti-sugar movement. At my age and weight, I’m at risk for Type 2 diabetes. I’ve stopped eating everything containing sugar and white flour. The outer aisles of the supermarket, with the fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, and dairy are my aisles. I only use the ones with packaged, manufatured food for canned tuna fish and real mayonnaise. I’m losing weight, lowering my cholesterol, enjoying steadier, pleasantly elevated moods, even some relief from my chronic joint pain.
I recommend that adults control their sugar, limit what reaches their children, and support concerted efforts to discourage it in children by making it more expensive, inconvenient, and less available. We just can’t let sugar keep making our children sick, shortening their lives, and bankrupting the nation.