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America has a sugar problem. We’re eating too much sugar, we’re craving sugar 24/7, and our blood sugar is too high. In fact, the average American consumes an astounding 160 pounds of sugar a year. A new book by former Men’s Health writer Jeff O’Connell examines this issue, and he draws some wild conclusions about the system that conspires to actually keep us sick.
In 2006, former executive writer for Men’s Health and former editor-in-chief of Muscle & Fitness Jeff O’Connell was delivered a crushing blow: he was prediabetic. What’s worse is that just a few months before, Jeff’s own father lost a leg because of the disease. The diagnosis sent Jeff on a journey to discover how diabetes was being treated by the American healthcare system through the lens of his own experience being newly diagnosed. The result of this journey is the new book, Sugar Nation: The Hidden Truth Behind America’s Deadliest Habit and the Simple Way to Beat It.
After talking to health researchers, public health advocates, and doctors themselves, O’Connell soon discovers that the institutions that have been established to solve the problem of diabetes in America have an even greater stake in keeping the disease prevalent.
Jeff O’Connell clearly knows how to craft a compelling narrative. After all, his writing has been citied twice in the Best American Sports Writing anthology. The story that O’Connell tells weaves the story of his father’s disease, his relationship with his father, his own disease, and the growing diabetes epidemic in America is seamless, and that’s not surprising given his skills.
What is surprising is the way that Jeff, a health writer, was living prior to his diagnosis:
“Driving fifteen hours a day meant ordering meals from drive-through speakers. A typical fast-food meal for me was a Big Mac and a large order of fries, washed down with a Coca-Cola Classic”
O’Connell candidly admits that even though he was a health writer, we still slipped and sometimes ordered unhealthy fast-food meals from McDonald’s.
Early in his journey, O’Connell meets physicians working in poor American towns who see a high volume of diabetic patients each day. As it turns out, his eating habits more closely resembled most of these patients than he cared to admit.
“The median household income in Holmes County is $23,369. Worrying about type-2 diabetes down the road often takes a backseat to feeding hungry mouths that night. ‘For many of the people who live here, it’s far cheaper to live off McDonald’s or Popeyes or lots of pastas and white rice – carbs and unhealthy fats – than to eat healthfully,’ says Gabriel I. Uwaifo, M.D., associate professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.”
Page after page, O’Connell exposes the interdependent relationships between the medical industry, the diabetic care industry, and the food industry. His research is extensive, and he pulls out interesting facts that support his argument that the cure is more obvious than the medical industry would have us believe. For example, sales of diabetes drugs doubled between 2002 and 2007, but people with type-2 diabetes continue to get worse year after year. He concludes that while putting a lot of lip service toward solving the problem, all have a financial stake in keeping the epidemic going rather than solving the problem.
And the problem can be solved, O’Connell argues, with attention to lifestyle and prevention. The real issues that are not being addressed properly are America’s high carb diet and lack of regular exercise, according to O’Connell:
“Along with a low-carb eating plan, a gym membership is the most potent antidote to type 2 diabetes.”
For the rest of the shocking truth that O’Connell uncovers, you’ll have to check the book out yourself. From examining misleading marketing to breaking down the ideal diet for diabetics, Sugar Nation is a readable expose that is appropriate for anyone who wants to know the real deal about the American type-2 diabetes epidemic.
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