Carbs Are Killing Us. Why Don’t We Care?
Our love affair with carbohydrates is slowly but surely killing us. Bagels, wine, pizza, soda, cereal are staples in American homes. We all have craved sugar and succumbed to its comforting “carbi-ness.” The operative word there is “craved,” because carbs (sugar) are addictive. Our nicotine addiction has been replaced with a sugar addiction. And just as with cigarettes—considered the ‘epitome of coolness,’ smoked by doctors themselves, and accepted into popular culture—the science will catch up to show just how damaging obesity and diabetes will be to us… and even our children.
And there’s a physiological reason for this because our brains prefer to run on sugar (glucose). So we are, in actuality, giving our body something it needs. But too much of a good thing isn’t good. In fact, it’s causing rampant obesity and type II diabetes in all developed cultures around the world. Processed sugar and carbohydrates are now so ingrained in our diets and culture (wine Wednesday anyone? Cakes for toddlers?) that we’re seeing epidemic rates of obesity and diabetes, most alarmingly in children.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, diabetes is the 7th leading cause of death and is a contributing factor to the 1st leading cause of death, heart disease. Treatment and management of diabetes is a massive drain on our healthcare system. The doctor visits and treatments (pills and insulin injections) for type II diabetes, as well as the complications (blindness, amputations, kidney failure) and what they lead to (hospitalizations and surgeries), costs our healthcare system and individual patients upwards of $245 billion every year.
The real stickler with type II diabetes is that once you go over that precipice, there’s no going back. There is no cure for diabetes; it’s a chronic condition that must be managed for the rest of your [likely shortened] life with drugs, diet and exercise. There are many diabetes management programs, particularly from the companies that make diabetes treatments. Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and Boehringer Ingelheim have corporate diabetes management programs with the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association to educate diabetes patients about the risks of heart disease. But that’s all after diabetes has already taken hold.
Why isn’t this epidemic on the Today Show? Or being heatedly debated between President Trump and the FDA? Because, just like cigarettes in the 1980s, a cultural shift in our view towards food and sugar is what’s needed—not more legislation. The problem is us, not soda cup size, Mr. Bloomberg. Similar to any addiction or bad behavior nothing will change until we decide to quit. So how did we create that cultural shift to make cigarettes taboo? Education and exposing the real story behind the damage it does.
Similar to how the Truth Initiative uncovered the fraudulent and manipulative past of smoking, we need more conversation about what food is and how it’s used by the body—not what a soda company tells you will go great with your burger in a commercial. (Really, Coke, is that what passes for creative?) We’re starting on that path to education, with larger and clearer calorie labels on food, but it needs to go farther. This November, Diabetes Awareness Month, we need to really evaluate what food means to us and how we relate to it as a culture. A little more balance of the “eat-to-live” versus “live-to-eat” mentality will serve us better in the long run.
At JPA Health, we are hard at work driving this kind of health communication for our clients, particularly for our partners at the StayWell Guam Diabetes Foundation. Finding the insight and touchpoints to help shift people to be proactive about their health and advocates for their healthcare fuels our calling every day to the healthcare PR industry.