The Racial Economics At Play Behind The Diabetes Issue.
I saw a tweet today about diabetes affecting 1 in 3 white people who were born in 2000. Unfortunately, the statistic goes down to 1 in 2 for black children.
This suggests that there is some form of racial discrimination if we look at the numbers from a superficial level.
Unfortunately, the information doesn’t cover the socioeconomic perspective, which does play a heavier role in the United States.
What do I mean by that?
The great income inequality
We can see from the data provided by the US Federal Reserve that the net worth of a typical white family is much greater than that of a black or Hispanic family.
And whites are generally more financially well off than persons of colour (POC).
The next question is, how do a family’s finances influence their likelihood of getting diabetes?
As a poor graduate student…
Indeed, I was a poor graduate student once upon a time. Thankfully, rent in the cornfields of Illinois was much lower than the big cities in the West Coast or East Coast…
But when we’re strapped for finances, we tend to go for the cheap options.
And the cheapest options tend to be highly diabetes-inducing.
For example, if I were to get food at a McDonald’s outlet, the (sugar-laden) drinks are usually provided free flow from a fountain.
To get my money’s worth from going to McDonald’s…
I’d get multiple drink refills, no?
And that’s not even considering how unhealthy the food at McDonald’s is!
If I’m not financially well off, I’d be aiming to get those multiple refills!
Given that McDonald’s is one of the cheapest dining out/fast food/food on the go options in the US, and given that a more significant proportion of the blacks and Hispanics are poorer, they would be:
- More likely to go to cheap fast food joints.
- Get extra drink refills.
- Get a higher risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in the long run.
It’s not that much the idea that Type 2 diabetes is a racial discrimination issue — it’s an economic discrimination issue.
The complication is that one quickly gains weight from the overconsumption of these cheap carbohydrates , which is why we see many poor people who are heavily obese. (I did gain weight during my stint in the US, too; I wasn’t immune to that. I was mentally more sluggish and physically more unfit, that is for sure.)
As a result, a higher proportion of the POC populations are afflicted with Type 2 diabetes than the white population.
The problem is, why is it that these things are cheap?
Because corn is heavily subsidized in the United States, the root of the corn issue can be traced back to the 1800s:
The early 1800s brought boom times for U.S. farms: Pioneers moving west were snatching up new farmland and growing so much corn they hardly knew what to do with it. For one thing, they made whiskey — and lots of it — because it added value to cheap corn, and it was easy to transport and store. As a result, the average American man in the 1820s drank FIVE GALLONS of hard liquor a year (compared to less than a gallon today) with the attendant health and social problems you might expect. Meanwhile, farmers were over-planting the land they had, setting the stage for bad times to come.
Sure enough, those times came in the 1930s. Farm production had spiked in the previous decade, as American farms ramped up to feed war-ravaged Europe. The resulting grain glut drove the price of food so low that it was basically worthless. Plus, thanks to the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, so many Americans were out of work that they couldn’t afford even the dirt-cheap food available.
To even out these kinds of wild ups and downs, the federal government decided to do something: Enter subsidies.
These subsidies were so valuable to corn farmers in the USA, such that “U.S. farmers produced 32 percent of the world’s corn supply on 84 million acres of farmland, raking in a cool $63.9 billion” in 2010.
I wouldn’t be eating all that, for sure. A lot of that corn goes into livestock feed, biofuel (ethanol) production, and of course, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS).
As a result, most processed foods manufactured in the US rely heavily on HFCS.
What can HFCS from cheap corn do, then?
An article at NPR.org questioned the dichotomy between the agricultural policies and the nutritional recommendations within the US:
Researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Emory University in Atlanta were curious. In a paper published in JAMA Internal Medicine, they point to a disconnect between the nation’s agricultural policies and nutritional recommendations.
Americans are told to fill 50 percent of our plates with fruits and vegetables. But here’s the contradiction, as the researchers see it: U.S. agriculture policies “focus on financing the production of corn, soybeans, wheat, rice, sorghum, dairy and livestock,” the researchers write. About $170 billion was spent between 1995 and 2010 on these seven commodities and programs, according to the researchers.
To evaluate the association between the consumption of these foods and the health of Americans, the researchers used data collected by a federal health survey to analyze the daily diet of 10,308 adults.
The survey was based on 24-hour recall, where participants are asked to name everything they ate over the past day. The researchers then estimate the consumption of subsidized food commodities as a percentage of total calories consumed. So what did they find?
“Higher consumption of calories from subsidized food commodities was associated with a greater probability of some cardiometabolic risks,” the authors conclude. For instance, they found a higher probability of both obesity and unhealthy blood glucose levels (which raises the risk of Type 2 diabetes) among people who consumed the most calories from subsidized foods.
But we also have to understand that what is good for business isn’t all that great for health. HFCS is cheaper than cane sugar, and the prices are also much less volatile than cane sugar, as explained in an article that evaluates the economics of using HFCS as a sweetener:
Why use HFCS? Let’s start with the savings realized every year by food and beverage manufacturers that use HFCS in a wide range of food applications. You can bet those manufacturers are crunching the numbers and weighing the savings against the demands of the marketplace. So, when the latest research confirms the extremely low consumer interest in seeing you switch, where’s the value in making such an expensive move? Throw in the historic swings in prices of sugar and you add even more levels of uncertainty to the equation.
Even beyond cost, the reasons for using HFCS are clear. From breads that are more golden-brown and breakfast bars that are chewier, to creamier yogurts and consistently refreshing drinks, HFCS helps maintain the taste, flavor and texture that consumers have come to demand in a full range of foods. So, while HFCS and sugar have the same number of calories, in terms of finished product, versatility and cost, HFCS simply has no equal.
It’s mainly because the consumers demand it. Consumers want aesthetically pleasing foods. More texture. More oomph. More satiation. HFCS provides that in a way that normal sugar cannot compete with.
So therein lies the problem.
Consumers are emotionally stimulated to purchase products made with HFCS.
HFCS can be sold for extremely cheap because of the massive corn subsidies.
Hence, the prices of processed foods can be driven down…
And the poorer people, again, aiming for a “bang for your buck” situation, will tend to purchase more of these processed foods at the supermarkets.
Ever noticed that supermarket coupons rarely ever provide discounts on fresh meats, fruits, or vegetables, but they advertise a ton of discounts for the processed foods on their shelves?
That’s precisely because HFCS can be sold for artificially low prices due to the US government subsidizing corn.
The discrimination is financial.
And it boils over to one’s state of health eventually, especially with all the problems that excess sugar in our blood can cause.
The cruel irony…
When one has Type 2 diabetes, they have to go on a recurring supply of medicines that are supposed to help them “control” their blood sugar levels…
But when one has an insulin resistance problem, how the heck does introducing extra expensive insulin help them?
Again, it’s a game of finances here.
HFCS is subsidized so that all the HFCS products can be marketed for cheap…
When one consumes too much of them, they’d develop type 2 diabetes and get prescribed medications that don’t solve the issue, which can significantly enrich the drug manufacturers.
All I can say is… oof.
When one has diabetes, it ain’t going to stop at just diabetes because the underlying biochemical precursors of why one has diabetes aren’t explicitly addressed by consuming any drugs on the market. Those underlying issues can proceed, in parallel pathways, to wreak havoc on one’s heart with heart disease, for instance.
The network of deceit and manipulation is real, designed to channel as many funds into the pockets of the rich to enrich them further!
But for us as average humans… We need to know better how to avoid these marketing tactics to live out a healthy life with a good quality of life, no?
Joel Yong, Ph.D., is a biochemical engineer/scientist, an educator, and a writer. He has authored 5 ebooks (available on Amazon.com in Kindle format) and co-authored 6 journal articles in internationally peer-reviewed scientific journals. His main focus is on finding out the fundamentals of biochemical mechanisms in the body that the doctors don’t educate the lay people about and will then proceed to deconstruct them for your understanding — as an educator should.
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