Bill Clinton has been flashing his charm on TV lately, talking about cheaper drug prices for African AIDS sufferers. It is a most worthwhile cause but a remote one. In New York City, where Mr. Clinton maintains his rather grand, publicly paid-for headquarters, an even more lethal and more neglected epidemic pleads for his good offices.
Eight hundred thousand New Yorkers are suffering from diabetes. All told, 21 million Americans have the disease. Doctors estimate that another 45 million are prediabetic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention anticipates that one out of every three children born in the United States will contract this fatal malady.
Diabetes causes heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, loss of circulation leading to gangrene and amputation of feet, legs and hands. It destroys the nervous system, leaving people in continuous, excruciating pain, and it robs them of the power to fight off infectious disease. As a public health problem, it dwarfs diseases like AIDS by orders of magnitude but gets scant attention. Did you know that the color of the diabetes ribbon is gray? Have you ever seen one?
Five to 10 percent of diabetics inherit the disease. For everybody else who has it — and that is, to repeat, tens of millions — this killer is preventable. No drugs are needed to protect people from diabetes, which is unfortunate since in the free-market world there is no money to be made in keeping people healthy. Fortunes are to be made, however, by letting people contract diabetes and then tethering them to a dialysis machine. Profit aplenty is to be found chopping off feet and selling drugs for heart disease.
Where are the big bucks in diabetes prevention when all that is involved is teaching people to eat right and exercise? Where is the money in that unless you own a gymnasium?
In the land of the free, the brave and the sick, the more money you have, the greater the odds are that you eat right and exercise enough to have no worries about diabetes. This is a disease of low- and middle-income people. They are the ones who live off factory-made food loaded with the grease and sugar from which American people are sickening at an ever younger age.
At home and at school children are habituated to eating what will kill them. There is profit in poisoning the population, and lethal food peddling, unlike lethal drug peddling, is legal. A go-getting, job-creating ad agency entrepreneur can make a hell of a lot of money teaching children how to grow fat and kill themselves.
In Australia, Canada and England they censor advertising. In the United States free speech is interpreted to mean you may drench toddlers in thousands of cunning ads to inculcate in them toxic eating habits. The lawyers — bless their liberty-loving selves — tell us that the Founding Fathers put it in the Constitution that corporations may jackhammer us night and day with upbeat messages to buy and eat what will kill us.
Nothing is more difficult than changing the food preferences we were taught as children. Get the kids hooked on snack food early in life and you've got them even after they have grown up and the doctor tells them they have diabetes. Krispy Kreme, now and forever.
In a time of single-parent and three-job families, a decent diet and a minimum amount of exercise does not happen. People do not know how to cook. Millions of them would not know what to do with an uncooked vegetable if it were to jump, uninvited, into their shopping carts. They only know how to microwave factory-prepared comestibles. Even if they could cook, shopping for wholesome ingredients and putting them together costs more than franchise food takeout. It's cheaper, quicker and easier to heat up something factory fresh from a box that says, "Just Like Mother Made From Scratch."
Anyone foolhardy enough to object to the 100 or so grocery manufacturers, fast food franchisers and soft drink companies knocking off a third of the population should be prepared for a long and arduous slog. Such people will be ignored, and if by chance they do capture public attention for a brief second, the food, drug and beverage industry's propaganda apparatus will take care of them in short order. They will be ridiculed, denounced and run out of public life as socialists, ideologues, out of the main stream, collectivists, members of the Nader conspiracy, people with an agenda, etc.
Failing that, the toxic food industry has its armies of Jack Abramoffs to buy as many government officials and members of Congress as it takes. Eat a carrot, take a jog and forget about it. We have become a nation of pâté de foie gras geese, held by our throats, stuffed to the bursting and unable to do anything but flap an occasional wing.
By Nicholas Von Hoffman
Reprinted with permission from The Nation