A First Step to Stop Subsidizing Obesity and Prediabetes

AMA Meeting Addresses Issues with Current Food Stamp Program

The AMA is recommending that sugar-sweetened beverages be removed from the food stamp program, SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program). The evidence is mounting that sugary beverages are contributing to obesity, as well as prediabetes and diabetes. The action recommended by the AMA last month is a move in the right direction to reduce obesity and decrease government spending on unhealthy habits that may increase disease in America.

Strong Link Between Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Disease

Research is now starting to show a real connection between sugary drinks and major disease and death. One large study from the Harvard School of Public Health shows in 2010 alone 132,000 diabetes deaths, 44,000 cardiovascular deaths, and 6000 cancer deaths throughout the world could be attributed to sugary drinks.

Subsidizing Disease?

Most people wouldn’t want their hard earned tax dollars to go towards buying people cigarettes.  Cigarettes are a luxury item. More importantly, they are linked to lung cancer, a deadly and costly disease.  Are today’s tax dollars going towards similar, deadly, luxury items?

The government currently puts out $1-$1.2 billion dollars every year to buy soda for needy families participating in SNAP.  This subsidy is likely to result in even more tax payer dollars going towards health care costs as a result of the detrimental effects of consuming these beverages. In fact, research has shown 58% of the beverages purchased through food assistance programs are full of added sugar.

Are Tax Payers Dollars Contributing to Obesity

With an estimated 40% children’s calories today coming from empty calories (sugary beverages top the list), action is overdue. This issue highlights a greater issue. Is it possible the way we subsidize in the US could be considered a risk factor for obesity. Not only do we subsidize the billion in spending on sugary drinks each year, but we spend up to $10 billion (that’s with a b) a year in corn subsidies to make the high fructose corn syrup in these drinks cheaper. Properly allocating these dollars seems like a good place to start to tackle the obesity epidemic in America.

Another Step in the Fight Against Obesity

Some states are starting to consider a sugar-sweetened beverage tax.  A policy brief from the Yale Rudd Center explored the possibility that a one cent per ounce tax on sugary beverages could decrease consumption.  In this brief they also highlight research that estimates this kind of tax could translate into a 150 calorie decrease per person each day as well as a decrease in diabetes and heart attack risk. They also point out that this type of tax could generate $13 billion a year in revenue.

Subsidizing Health

The  real issue is not the billions that are spent on subsidizing sugar drinks or the billions that could be made by taxing them. It is really about the trillions of dollars spent every year on health care. The money spent today needs to be put towards programs to help decrease medical spending in the future and improve quality of life. I’m sure we could find a better use for the $1.2 billion dollars we are currently spending to give people free access to sugary beverages.  For example, we could use that money to teach people about the dangers of sugary beverages and help them to avoid obesity, diabetes and prediabetes.







Can Diet and Lifestyle Changes Prevent Diabetes in Prediabetics?

The Right Approach to Prediabetes

Type II diabetes is difficult to treat, so it is important to take the right steps for prevention.  A number of medications have been presented to help in the prevention of diabetes, but the results need to be weighed against the side effects and cost of this approach. Some of the most effective medications have been removed or restricted based on negative side effects.

Diet and lifestyle is not only the safer option, but it has been shown to be twice as effective as the safest available medication.³ The necessary changes are not as difficult as you might think. Small, but consistent, adjustments can make an impact on your risk of diabetes and its crippling side effects.

Small Change, Big Difference

The question of whether or not diet and lifestyle can help delay or prevent diabetes has been answered by 3 large, landmark studies¹²³. Even though each of these studies posted a small change in weight, the reductions in risk of diabetes was significant. One study showed diet and lifestyle intervention reduce the risk of diabetes by 42% while the other 2 studies both showed a 58% reduction compared to the control group.

Low Fat or Low Carb

Contrary to what most people today would guess, the prescribed diet in all three of these studies was low fat.  Calorie reduction was also a hallmark of all three diet interventions. The goal of the diet was weight reduction and the researchers felt the best chances were with a low fat diet.

Many people believe eating more carbs will increase blood sugar issues. This is largely because we eat mostly highly refined carbs in the form of refined flour, processed sugars and fried, starchy potatoes. These forms of carbs make it difficult to control our blood sugar and can lead to weight gain.

Whole food sources of carbohydrates are generally high in fiber which can help balance blood sugar and fight hunger. Therefore, a low fat diet full of whole food sources will be the best approach if you choose a low fat diet. Instead of restricting your diet, a whole food diet opens you to a whole new world of foods that taste great. A whole foods diet can introduce new, fresh dishes to share with family and friends .

Changing 3% Can Significantly Reduce the Risk of Diabetes

Of these three studies, none of them asked the participants to do more than 30 minutes of physical activity every day. This 3% of your waking hours can mean the difference between facing diabetes in the future or taking back control of prediabetes now. The exercise requirements in these studies were also not intense.  The general recommendation was to do exercise that would be equal to 30 minutes of brisk walking.

Exercise can be fun and is best enjoyed with friends and family. Rediscover some of your favorite activities such as volleyball, tennis or swimming. Being active won’t only lower your risk for diabetes but it will make you feel more energy throughout the day and give you a greater sense of well-being. Exercise might even make you happier.

Overcoming Genetic Influence

What if even genes couldn’t determine your fate of diabetes? It is easy to believe that we have no control over what will happen with our health, especially if we have a family history of diabetes. There is mounting evidence that even our genetic predisposition is no match for diet and lifestyle changes. In 2 of these landmark studies mentioned above the researchers showed that diet and lifestyle was able to significantly reduce risk of those genetically prone to have diabetes.4

Taking the Right Steps

When beginning your own journey to reduce your risk of diabetes consider getting some extra help. One of the shortcomings of these three studies was the amount of intervention needed to achieve the results.  This means you too will likely need consistent advice from trusted sources to stay on track. It is always best to enter this journey with a partner that will hold you accountable and keep you moving forward.  You may also need to be under the care of a health care practitioner that can give you the guidance needed to make sure you are moving in the right direction. Check with your insurance provider and find out what services they will cover. If needed, you can get a referral from your primary doctor or specialist.

It is best to start any journey with someone else. If you and a friend or family member can wake up an extra 1/2 hour earlier, and go for a brisk walk, you will change the course of both of your lives. You can also keep each other accountable, teach each other new recipes and share the struggles together. If you can’t find someone close that is ready for the change, join a group of people just like you that are motivated to start a new health  journey.

You have more control then you think but it will take some initial momentum to get you going in the right direction. Leave a comment below or let us know how we can help you with the next step on your journey.

1.  Tuomilehto, Jaakko, et al. “Prevention of type 2 diabetes mellitus by changes in lifestyle among subjects with impaired glucose tolerance.” New England Journal of Medicine 344.18 (2001): 1343-1350.
3. Lifshitz, Fima, and Judith G. Hall. “Reduction in the incidence of type II diabetes with lifestyle intervention or metformin.” J Med 346 (2002): 393-403.
4.  Dagogo-Jack, Samuel, Nonso Egbuonu, and Chimaroke Edeoga. “Principles and practice of nonpharmacological interventions to reduce cardiometabolic risk.” Medical Principles and Practice 19.3 (2010): 167-175.