Stop the Unrelenting March of Diabetes

The World Health Organization reported this month that diabetes cases have quadrupled in just over three decades. So what can be done to stop the unrelenting march of this disease?  

Writing in The Lancet about their findings, the WHO researchers noted part of the answer lies in prevention “through enhancing healthy behaviours and diets at the population level, and early detection and management of high-risk individuals.”

But that alone will not be enough: They went on to emphasize the need for policy innovation in order to turn things around.  That is especially true for people who are lower on the socioeconomic spectrum, as was highlighted in a new report in the Journal of the American Medical Association showing the relationship between income and life expectancy in the United States.  The researchers found a widening gap in life spans between the rich and the poor from 2001 to 2014 that was exacerbated by location. 

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New York City, for example, had one of the country’s lowest life-expectancy gaps between its high-income and low-income residents.  Why would this be the case? As former New York City health commissioner Thomas Farley commented about public policy efforts, “It’s about combating the things that are killing people.”

Farley is now the Philadelphia health commissioner and is helping to close the life expectancy gap between the rich and poor in that city.  He recently wrote in support of the mayor’s proposed tax on sugary drinks:

“Our obesity rate is among the highest of U.S. cities, driven by a food environment filled with sugary drinks and snack foods. Just as Big Tobacco has targeted youths, particularly in communities of color, Big Soda marketing targets African American and Latino youths. In fact, African American children see twice as many sugary-drink ads as white children, which may help explain the fact that black teens in Philadelphia are much more likely than their white peers to consume sugary drinks daily - and are more likely to be obese. And it helps to explain why nearly one in five African American adults in our city is suffering from diabetes - and at risk of consequences such as vision loss, kidney failure, and amputations.”

The cities of Oakland and San Francisco are also looking to implement sugary drink taxes to narrow their life-expectancy gaps and stop the unrelenting march of diabetes.  We will keep you posted on their progress toward those goals and similar efforts in other cities as well.


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