Diabetic eye disease: How regular eye exams could save vision

Individuals with diabetes are likely accustomed to regular insulin injections or a strict diet. But are they as familiar with regular eye examinations? According to the results of a new survey coinciding with National Diabetes Month, the majority of diabetic patients would say no, even though diabetes is a leading cause of vision loss in the US.

According to the National Eye Institute (NEI) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), around 25 million Americans suffer from diabetes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adults aged between 20 and 74.

Figures from the CDC show that between 2005 and 2008, 4.2 million diabetes patients in the US had diabetic retinopathy – the most common form of diabetic eye disease. Of these, 655,000 suffered from advanced diabetic retinopathy, which can potentially lead to severe vision loss.

However, a new survey from Diabetic Connect – the largest social networking site for diabetes sufferers and their families – reveals that 25% of people with diabetes do not have the recommended annual dilated (retina) eye exam, which experts say could significantly reduce the risk of vision loss or blindness associated with diabetes.

Diabetic eye disease explained

Diabetic eye disease is defined as a group of eye-related health issues that are particularly common among diabetes sufferers.

Lady undergoing an eye exam
The NEI says the risk of severe vision loss from diabetic retinopathy could be reduced by 95% with early detection, timely treatment and appropriate follow-up.

According to the NEI, the most common forms of diabetic eye disease are diabetic retinopathy, cataract and glaucoma.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in diabetics – caused by a change in the blood vessels situated in the retina.

Some people with this disease experience swelling and fluid leaking from the blood vessels into the macula of the eye – the part of the retina that is responsible for sharp vision. This process is known as diabetic macular edema (DME).

Other people with diabetic retinopathy will have new blood vessels form on the surface of the retina. Both of these changes can lead to partial vision loss or complete blindness.

One major problem for patients with diabetic eye disease is that there are often no symptoms until the disease reaches an advanced stage. However, it can be detected early through a dilated eye exam.

“The best way to prevent unnecessary vision loss is through annual retina eye exams,” Dr. Carl C. Awh, retina specialist at Tennessee Retina, a group of nationally recognized specialists, told Medical News Today.

“Very often diabetic eye disease lacks any symptoms – meaning people may not know that their vision has been damaged until it’s too late.”

According to the NEI, with early detection through a dilated eye exam, timely treatment and appropriate follow-up, the risk of severe vision loss from diabetic retinopathy can be reduced by 95%.

Through early detection of diabetic retinopathy and other eye diseases, several treatment options can be offered to a patient.

These include laser eye surgery and injections of anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (anti-VEGF) medications. These block the actions of a protein that is the cause of abnormal blood vessel growth and leakage in the eye.

Below is a video from the NEI that explains the risk and treatment of diabetic eye disease:

Majority of diabetics ‘unaware of risk’ to eye health

Although people with diabetes are encouraged to have a dilated retina eye exam once every year, it seems many diabetes sufferers do not undergo these regular eye check-ups.

Diabetic Connect conducted an online survey of 1,674 patients with either type 1 or type 2 diabetes. The survey revealed that 1 in 4 people do not receive their annual eye exam, and the reasons for this are largely down to lack of awareness.

In detail, only 36% of people with diabetes said they had spoken with their doctor regarding their risk of vision loss when they were diagnosed, and 22% had never spoken to their doctor about this topic.

Of those who have never had a retina eye exam, 13% said it was because they believed they had not had diabetes long enough for it to affect their vision.

Over 50% of respondents were unaware that diabetic macular edema was a leading cause of vision loss or blindness for diabetes sufferers, and 32% did not know they needed a dilated eye exam.

Needless to say, the results of this survey are worrying, especially considering the millions of diabetes sufferers who are at risk of eye disease.

Dr. Awh said there is no doubt that there needs to be more awareness among diabetic patients regarding potential vision loss and the need for regular testing.

“In part it comes from the primary care doctors and nurses. Broader public awareness and education is also needed,” he added.

One diabetes sufferer told Medical News Today that if it was not for her awareness of the risk of diabetic eye disease, the quick actions of her endocrinologist and regular eye tests, she may have lost all vision.

‘If it wasn’t for regular eye exams, I would have gone blind’

Suzanne Gardner was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes at the age of 7.

In 1999, Suzanne began experiencing problems with her vision, such as seeing blurred colors and the inability to see details. She said she was previously made aware of the risk of vision loss due to her diabetes.

“In fact, vision loss was something that was of great concern to people who had diabetes,” she added.

“However, 41 years ago, the technology for diabetes was not as advanced as it is today. We had no means of testing blood glucose at home. So diabetes couldn’t be as well controlled as it is today with home glucose monitoring machines and insulin pumps.”

Suzanne visited an ophthalmologist who diagnosed her with diabetic retinopathy. Within 2 years of diagnosis, Suzanne was deemed legally blind.

“Despite a series of operations, my doctors could only save partial vision in one of my eyes,” she said.

However, despite this devastating outcome, Suzanne says that if it was not for regular eye examinations, she may have lost all vision:

“As soon as my endocrinologist saw signs of diabetic eye disease, we all took it very seriously.

She sent me to see a specialist who deals specifically with the retina. If it had not been for the constant visits and immediate attention of my retina specialist, I would have gone completely blind.”

‘It’s important for people to know about vision loss risk’

In spite of her vision loss, Suzanne has made a successful career for herself in the form of art.

“I was devastated by my vision loss. I couldn’t work and couldn’t drive. All of a sudden, everything about how I defined myself had changed,” she told Medical News Today.

“When a friend suggested I start painting, it was the last thing on my mind. But when I picked up the brush, it helped me through a very dark time in my life after my diagnosis, and I decided that I wanted to begin creating artwork for a living.”

Soon after the discovery of her love of art, she became a professional artist and was selling her artwork online and at shows.

“My limited eyesight gave me a new appreciation for vivid colors and focused my work on what I could accomplish, despite vision loss,” she said.

“I have learned to rely on my memory and use strong magnifying glasses since it is difficult for me to see details. I also use bright contrasting colors, which are easier for me to distinguish.”

Not only is Suzanne’s success as an artist a personal achievement, but she also hopes her work inspires other diabetes sufferers to look after their vision.

“It’s important for people to know about the risk of vision loss from diabetes. It’s my mission to use art as a way to remind people that their sight is worth protecting.

Because of my experience, it’s important to me that my paintings make a statement. I hope people see my art, hear my story and are inspired to prioritize their vision.”

Reducing the risk of diabetic eye disease

There is no doubt that by having annual retina eye exams, the risk of vision loss as a result of diabetes could be significantly reduced. But what does a dilated examination involve?

During the test, eye drops are put into a patient’s eye. These drops cause the pupils to open, allowing the doctor to clearly assess all structures of the eye, including the retina, to determine whether there is any damage or early signs of disease.

“Ophthalmologists, optometrists and retina specialists are able to conduct these exams and can direct patients to the appropriate specialists if there are findings,” explained Dr. Awh.

As well as regular dilated eye exams, the NEI says that diabetes sufferers can also reduce their risk of diabetic eye disease though good control of blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels.

To find information about how diabetes can cause vision loss, the retina eye exam and to find a retina specialist in your area, you can visit Diabetes Eye Check, a part of the American Society of Retina Specialists (ASRS).

Written by Honor Whiteman

Obesity May be Driving Earlier Puberty in Girls | Psych Central News

Obesity May be Driving Earlier Puberty in GirlsNew research shows obesity is the largest predictor of earlier puberty in girls, which is affecting white girls much sooner than previously reported.

The multi-institutional study published in the journal Pediatrics confirms that girls of all races are beginning puberty at a younger age, a longstanding observation in the U.S.

“The impact of earlier maturation in girls has important clinical implications involving psychosocial and biologic outcomes,” said Frank Biro, M.D., lead investigator.

“The current study suggests clinicians may need to redefine the ages for both early and late maturation in girls.”

Researchers have observed that girls with earlier maturation are at risk for a multitude of challenges, including lower self-esteem, higher rates of depression, norm-breaking behaviors and lower academic achievement.

Experts say early maturation also results in greater risks of obesity, hypertension and several cancers — including breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer .

The study was conducted through the Breast Cancer and Environmental Research Program, established by the National Institute of Environmental Health Science.

Researchers at centers in the San Francisco Bay Area, Cincinnati and New York City examined the ages of 1,239 girls at the onset of breast development and the impact of body mass index and race/ethnicity.

The girls ranged in age from 6 to 8 years at enrollment and were followed at regular intervals from 2004 to 2011. Researchers used well-established criteria of pubertal maturation, including the five stages of breast development known as the Tanner Breast Stages.

The girls were followed longitudinally, which involved multiple regular visits for each girl. Researchers said this method provided a good perspective of what happened to each girl and when it occurred.

Researchers found the respective ages at the onset of breast development varied by race, body mass index (obesity), and geographic location.

Breast development began in white, non-Hispanic girls, at a median age of 9.7 years — earlier than previously reported.

Black girls continue to experience breast development earlier than white girls, at a median age of 8.8 years.

The median age for Hispanic girls in the study was 9.3 years, and 9.7 years for Asian girls.

Body mass index was a stronger predictor of earlier puberty than race or ethnicity.

Although the research team is still working to confirm the exact environmental and physiological factors behind the phenomenon, they conclude the earlier onset of puberty in white girls is likely caused by greater obesity.

Source: Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

 

Young girl performing breast exam photo by shutterstock.

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Did Trauma Cause My Diabetes?

What caused killer t-cells to attack the beta cells in my pancreas, preventing them from producing insulin, making my blood sugar skyrocket and triggering my Type 1 diabetes? That was in 1962. No one has come up with a convincing explanation yet. Scientists aren’t even close to figuring out the interactions between the environment, genes, the immune system and who-knows-what-else that result in Type 1 (T1) or Type 2 (T2) diabetes. If you travel around the Internet, it appears that the entire world is one big “risk factor” for these conditions.

Suspects identified by researchers that might play a role in T1D include the smoked mutton consumed by Icelanders between Christmas and New Year’s, various viruses, respiratory infections in early childhood, early exposure to cow’s milk, psoriasis, the timing of infants’ first solid foods, low levels of Vitamin D, and many more. Risk factors for T2D, besides the well-known ones like obesity, could include not enough sleep and phthalates in soaps, lotions, plastics and toys.

But the culprit that interests me the most doesn’t get much attention in the research labs: trauma and major stress. When I was a kid, the conventional wisdom was that traumatic events — loss of a loved one, accidents — played an important role in diabetes onset. This appeared to be substantiated by a number of population studies in the ensuing decades, but the evidence hasn’t impressed major players in diabetes research. In a long summary of biochemical and environmental risk factors for T1D, the NIH barely touches upon the matter, gives it a few throwaway lines:

Although investigations of stress and IDDM [insulin dependent diabetes] have, in general, reported positive associations, most studies have been retrospective and suffered from methodological difficulties in assessing stress and measuring its frequency, intensity, and duration. Thus, prospective evaluations of the interaction among stress, the immune system, and the occurrence of autoimmune diseases are warranted.

Sorry, NIH, but I am convinced that a specific traumatic event played a major, albeit partial, role in triggering my diabetes.

In a blog post that was mainly about my mother and Sonya Sotomayor’s parents, I described the onset of the disease 51 years ago. It happened very soon after my grandfather died. In my grandmother’s apartment in Manhattan, I was so terrified by the mournful screams from my mother and grandmother when they embraced that I ran away and hid. Within two days, after an earache, sniffles, a sore throat and ravenous thirst, I was hauled to a hospital and suddenly became a kid with a scary disease.

By now, I understand that the trauma of mourning contributed to a process that was probably primed to happen anyway. Maybe my pancreas was already getting ravaged before my grandfather died and before any symptoms appeared. Maybe I would have been hospitalized at about the same time even if the women I loved hadn’t shocked me with their keening. Hard-nosed, data-driven scientists might call it a coincidence that those screams occurred just before the diagnosis. As the NIH notes, more research is needed on this one.

But was it a coincidence that after a major earthquake in California, in 1994, the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles experienced a sudden, unusually large influx of kids with newly-diagnosed T1D? Or that after Israel’s second war with Lebanon, the post-war incidence of T1D was higher than normal in areas in northern Israel that had been attacked, and there was no change in other regions? Or that, in Denmark, the children of mothers who were bereaved during their pregnancies were more likely to develop T1D, according to one study?

Or that the British physician Thomas Wills, in the 17th century, noticed that, “Sadness, or long sorrow, as likewise convulsions, and other depressions and disorders of the animal spirits, are used to generate or foment this morbid disposition [diabetes]”?

According to one theory, psychological and/or physical stress are among the factors that cause beta cell “stress” and “accelerate the auto-immune process that leads to their own destruction,” as one researcher puts it. There is at least some evidence that infants under stress have a higher incidence of the “auto-antibodies” — cells that turn around and destroy healthy cells — that are associated with this morbid disposition.

That’s enough evidence for me. But even if you doubt that my reaction to those screams was related to the destruction of my beta cells, you cannot possibly come up with a credible argument against psychologist David Felten, who tells us:

We can no longer pretend that the patient’s perceptions don’t matter … Your mind is in every cell of your body. And your emotions are the bridge between the mental and the physical, or the physical and the mental. It’s either way. Now there is overwhelming evidence that hormones and neurotransmitters can influence the activities of the immune system, and that products of the immune system can influence the brain.

This is hardly headline news. But thinking of the bodymind as one, integrated entity has never come naturally to me. I am, at heart, a Western guy, who has stayed alive mainly by doing what conventional Western physicians have told me to do. I reflexively consider balancing diet, insulin and exercise as the regimen needed to help my diabetic body. But meditation, and doing xi kung, and telling myself not to get angry at the guy who cuts in front of me on the movie line somehow feel like they are meant to help… something else, something I can’t locate, something that is closer to my authentic self than the clanking, flawed, corroding body that is wrapped around it.

Reading more, of late, about diabetes, the brain and behavior has helped to remind me that the physical aspects of this condition should not be placed in a category that is separate from the psychological aspects; they are part of the same condition. But the quickest way to remember that is to picture a frightened 7-year-old boy, running down a hallway in Manhattan. I am still doing my best to help him feel better, and that means dealing with everything that is churning within him, from high blood sugar to the terror that his cells have not forgotten.

Orginally published in The Insulin Chronicles and, with a different title, in Strangely Diabetic.


Follow Dan Fleshler on Twitter:

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Peak Obesity? | Zero Hedge

Obesity rates have increased at least slightly so far in 2013 across almost all major demographic and socioeconomic groups, according to Gallup’s latest study. The largest upticks between 2012 and 2013 were among those aged 45 to 64 and those who earn between $30,000 and $74,999 annually – which ‘coincidentally’ is perfectly in the cohort that is ‘disincentized’ to work by the growing shadow of bought votes and entitlements. So, the question then becomes, is the considerable spike in 2013 that is so evident below the “peak” in obesity rates as the government is forced to introduce more haircuts on its foodstamp program? Time will tell…

US Obesity rate is spiking (along with the Fed’s balance sheet and stocks…)

(h/t @Not_Jim_Cramer)

 

Via Gallup:

The U.S. obesity rate thus far in 2013 is trending upward and will likely surpass all annual obesity levels since 2008, when Gallup and Healthways began tracking. It is unclear why the obesity rate is up this year, and the trend since 2008 shows a pattern of some fluctuation.

 

 

Blacks, those who are middle-aged, and lower-income adults continue to be the groups with the highest obesity rates. The healthcare law could help reduce obesity among low-income Americans if the uninsured sign up for coverage and take advantage of the free obesity screening and counseling that most insurance companies are required to provide under the law.

 

With the biggest rise in the cohorts that are dominated by the disincentized-to-work…“the single mom is better off earnings gross income of $29,000 with $57,327 in net income benefits than to earn gross income of $69,000 with net income and benefits of $57,045.

 

So one wonders… with the foodstamp program being cut – will that mean higher obesity rates or lower?

Coke and Pepsi Face Diabetes Backlash

Photo: Getty Images

Mayor Bloomberg’s thwarted soda ban hasn’t been forgotten. Coke and Pepsi are facing a new health-related challenge as doctors increasingly link their sugary beverages to debilitating illness, according to a critical new report by Wall Street bank Credit Suisse and research from Georgetown University, made available exclusively to Adweek.

Diabetes has supplanted obesity as the biggest threat to any brand hocking sugary beverages, according to Credit Suisse’s research. “We found that 90 percent of doctors in the United States, U.K. and Asia are convinced that excessive sugar consumption causes Type 2 diabetes,” said Stefano Natella, head of Global Equity Research at Credit Suisse. About 43 percent of added sugars in our diets come from sweetened beverages, per the report.

Put another way, the American Medical Association recommends that women have no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar a day; a 12-ounce can of soda contains 8-10 teaspoons.

Until now, major soda brands have insisted that  soda—at about 150 calories a can—can be part of a healthy lifestyle for people who avoid overeating and stay active. Marketing efforts, such as Coke’s recent pro-heath ad “Live Like Grandpa Did,” focus on preventing obesity.

But when it comes to brand attitudes, consumers worry more about diabetes than they do about obesity, and many hold Coke and Pepsi responsible. A study by Georgetown University conducted last week showed that after people saw a sugary soda ad with a pro-exercise, anti-obesity message, almost all of them had a positive attitude toward the products’ parent brand. But when the ad was modified to be anti-diabetes, participants’ reactions became 37 percent more negative toward the parent brand, said researcher Ishani Banerji.

“People are not willing to punish the brand for obesity, which seems like a lifestyle problem. But diabetes is considered a disease, and many consumers see the parent brand as contributing to it,” even if the brand claims otherwise, said Kurt Carlson, a Georgetown marketing professor who oversaw the study.

Not surprisingly, Coke and Pepsi are careful to skip around the D-word in their health-related marketing. Instead, they emphasize that they are ramping up their no-sugar and low-sugar offerings and encourage fitness. “We offer a diverse portfolio of beverage choices to meet a range of consumer needs,” said a Pepsi rep. Coke is helping build 100 fitness centers in U.S. schools to promote physical activity, said a Coca-Cola rep. Both companies declined to say if they will address diabetes concerns in future marketing.

As the debate over sugar and diabetes intensifies, consumption of non-diet drinks will suffer, predicts the Credit Suisse report. Coke and Pepsi will certainly shift their messages and product development, said Tom Bernthal, CEO of brand consultancy Kelton Global. 

Ty Montague, co-founder of creative consultancy co: collective, said the pressure is on the beverage giants to “create stuff people want more than the core [high-sugar] soda products.”

Indeed, Pepsi launched a cola in Australia last year that replaces a third of the sugar with stevia, a natural, no-calorie sweetener. In June, Coke introduced its own low-sugar stevia product, Coca-Cola Life, in Argentina.

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Childhood Obesity Again Tied to Earlier Puberty in Girls – WebMD

Childhood Obesity Tied to Earlier Puberty in Girls

By Amy Norton

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, Nov. 4 (HealthDay News) — U.S. girls are developing breasts at a younger age compared to years past, and obesity appears to explain a large share of the shift, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that between 2004 and 2011, American girls typically started developing breasts around the age of 9. And those who were overweight or obese started sooner — usually when they were about 8 years old.

The numbers are concerning, the researchers said — especially since the typical age at breast development is younger now than it was in a similar study from 1997. The main reason: Girls are heavier now than they were in the ’90s.

“This is another manifestation of America’s high body-mass index,” said lead researcher Dr. Frank Biro, of Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Body-mass index (BMI) is a measure of body fat based on a ratio of height to weight.

The findings, reported online Nov. 4 and in the December print issue of the journal Pediatrics, add to evidence that American children are hitting puberty earlier than in decades past. The rising tide of childhood obesity has been suspected as a major cause, but the new study gives more hard data to support the idea.

Biro said, however, that excess pounds do not seem to be the full explanation. And it’s possible that other factors — such as diet or chemicals in the environment — play a role.

Why should people worry that puberty is coming sooner now than in years past? There is a concern when young kids look older than they are, and are possibly treated that way, Biro said.

Studies have found that girls who mature early are more likely to be influenced by older friends, start having sex sooner and have more problems with low self-esteem and depression. “Just because you’re developing more quickly physically doesn’t mean you’re maturing emotionally or socially,” Biro said.

Plus, early puberty has been tied to long-term health risks. For women, an earlier start to menstruation has been linked to a heightened risk of breast cancer. It’s not clear why, but some researchers suspect that greater lifetime exposure to estrogen might be one reason.

Biro said earlier puberty also has been tied to increased risks of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes in adulthood. It’s hard, though, to know whether earlier puberty is to blame since obese kids tend to start puberty earlier, and obese children often become obese adults, he said.

Dr. Patricia Vuguin, a pediatric endocrinologist at the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park, N.Y., said it’s not known if it’s the earlier development or the obesity itself that causes the increased risk of those conditions.

Mexico Taxes Soda to Combat Obesity

popA food earthquake just hit south of the border. Mexico has successfully passed legislation placing an 8 percent sales tax on sugary soft drinks in response to their obesity epidemic. This is a significant public policy threat to the revenues of industrial beverage companies like Pepsi and Coca-Cola. It also raises public policy questions for the U.S. as it struggles with its own national epidemic of obesity and diabetes.

Health care costs expand with waistlines

Mexico and the United States are two of the world’s fattest countries. In the U.S. 31.8 percent of adults are classified as obese. In Mexico, it is 32.8 percent.

Heightened obesity levels increase human suffering. Obesity is linked to type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension and arthritis. Today, 25 million Americans have type 2 diabetes. 27 million have chronic heart disease. 68 million have hypertension and 50 million have arthritis.

Heightened obesity levels also place a heavy cost burden upon our national economy and family budgets. In the U.S., the cost of treating obesity-related diseases is $48 billion. The Harvard School of Public Health estimates that the added costs of lost work days, increased medical insurance rates and lost wages results in a $190 billion cost impact upon our national economy.

Increased sodas sales drive obesity rates higher

The consumption of just one can of soda is not going to make a person obese or cause diabetes. It is the volume of soda being consumed by Americans and Mexicans that is threatening human health. According to the national Soft Drink Association, the average adult in the U.S. consumes 600 12-ounce servings of soda per year. Mexico is the world’s largest consumer of soft drinks. The average Mexican drinks a stunning 46 gallons of soda per year! Coca-Cola’s own estimates are that the average Mexican consumes 650 cans of soda per year.

Research points to increased soda consumption driving obesity rates higher in both Mexico and the United States. The rate of increased soda consumption and the increase in obesity rates have risen together.

Soda plus junk food are threatening our children’s health

Soda and fast food companies view their products as benign to human health because a “calorie is a calorie.” Research say this is not the case. A National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that top sources of energy for 2 to 18-year-olds were grain desserts, pizza and sugar sweetened beverages. This study went on to identify that half of the “empty calories” in our children’s diet comes from just six foods: soda, fruit drinks, dairy desserts, grain desserts, pizza and whole milk. Illogically, government policy continues to support the food industry’s promotion of increased junk food and soda consumption by our sons and daughters that over the long term will increase their exposure to obesity-related diseases.

Marketing, advertising and volume price incentives drive obesity rates higher

I attended a national marketing conference where the Coca-Cola company’s confused ethics were brought to my attention. At this conference, a Coca-Cola marketing manager presented his success in growing Diet Coke sales through a promotional campaign focused upon the erosion of polar bear habitat due to climate change. This Diet Coke marketing campaign was a Hollywood-quality media outreach that successfully engaged youth and the millennial generation on their heightened focus of environmental issues. Proudly, this marketing manager reported that this campaign drove the sale of Diet Coke to record results. This case study left me with these impressions:

  • Polar bears gained needed publicity on their loss of habitat
  • Nothing really happened that enhanced the survival rate of polar bears
  • The Coca-Cola company grew their revenues
  • A marketing team may have gotten a financial raise
  • The health risk to U.S. citizens, especially our children, from drinking “empty calories” was increased

Will Mexico’s sales tax on soda reduce obesity?

The public policy question of Mexico’s 8 percent tax on soda is whether it will result in reduced sugar consumption, resulting in the reduction of obesity. Raising the price of a product through a tax will reduce its purchase if these three key conditions are met:

  1. Consumer incomes do not increase to levels that economically compensate for the demand suppressing tax
  2. There are viable and cost-attractive product substitutes to the product being taxed
  3. The product tax is significantly high enough to create a new “cultural norm” away from purchasing the taxed product

The challenge for Mexico is that soda fills a consumer void in clean water supplies. Soda has also become a cultural norm promoted by millions of dollars in annual advertising that links soda to the aspirations and values of consumers. And the income of Mexicans are increasing and this income increase can blunt or eliminate the demand-suppressing impacts of a tax upon soda.

Public policy that can reduce obesity

The current U.S. public policy of increasing consumer awareness of the health risks tied to high levels of soda consumption is at best slowing the rate of soda consumption. Encouragingly, at least half of U.S. moms say they are reducing their family’s consumption of soda.

Cigarette regulations provide an example of public policy that will meaningfully reduce soda consumption levels and its human health impacts. The public policy tools used to reduce the rate of cigarette consumption were:

  • Significantly higher product taxes
  • Advertising restrictions, especially toward children
  • Very visible and frank package labeling that links consumption to adverse health risks
  • Regulation of adult consumption behaviors
  • Sales prohibition to minors

Applying similar rules and regulations to soda sales will reshape the current cultural norm of soda drink dispensers that offer unlimited refills and “super size me” portions. Without this level of public policy, it is highly unlikely that the U.S. will achieve affordable health care insurance or significant reductions in the human suffering created from the marketing of obesity-linked diets.

Bill Roth is an economist and the Founder of Earth 2017. He coaches business owners and leaders on proven best practices in pricing, marketing and operations that make money and create a positive difference. His book, The Secret Green Sauce, profiles business case studies of pioneering best practices that are proven to win customers and grow product revenues. Follow him on Twitter: @earth2017

[image credit: Vox Efx: Flickr cc]


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Taxing fizzy drinks 'could cut obesity and disease among Britons …

Taxing fizzy drinks could cut obesity and disease
Fizzy drinks ‘should be taxed at 20 per cent’ (Picture: PA)

Fizzy drinks should be taxed at 20 per cent to cut the number of overweight Britons, a report has suggested.

Imposing such a levy on sugary beverages would reduce the level of obesity by 185,000 and of those considered overweight by 285,000, the study published on bmj.com stated.

While young adults, the largest consumers of fizzy drinks, would benefit most from the tax, the NHS would also save £276million a year, the report’s authors said.

‘Guzzling fizzy drinks is now the daily norm for around 40 per cent of 13-year-olds,’ said Simon Gillespie, of the British Heart Foundation, which helped fund the study.

‘The effects on young people’s health are a major concern. We know that drinks loaded with sugar can affect our weight, increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease.

‘This research suggests that a health-related food duty, alongside other measures such as the new front-of-pack food labelling scheme, could be an effective way – particularly in young people – to help reduce obesity.’

The report by the universities of Oxford and Reading has been backed by Prof Jason Block, of the Harvard Medical School. He said the 20 per cent levy ‘would be a good start’ as he called on more countries to ‘implement high taxes and measure the results’.

However, Terry Jones, of the Food and Drink Federation, called the proposals ‘over simplistic’ with some ‘obvious limitations’.

‘Many food and drink products are already subject to VAT of 20 per cent in the UK and making them more expensive for people at a time when household budgets are already squeezed is not the answer,’ he said.