Twin Epidemics: Childhood Obesity and Diabetes, Part 2

Coke bottle

When generalized statements are made about diabetes, it pretty much means Type 2, because 9/10ths (maybe more) of the patients are afflicted by Type 2. A recently released study by the Centers for Disease Control found that in some American cities, diabetes has doubled.

If that sounds alarming, try this: “China Diabetes Triples Creating $3.2 Billion Drug Market.” So says Bloomberg News, which gets its information from the corporations that profit, and why should they lie? The pharmaceutical industry figures to be pulling an annual $165 billion per year out of China by 2016.

The chief medical officer of Merck & Co., Michael Rosenblatt, says China has become the “world’s capital” for diabetes. It contains 90 million diabetics, or four times as many as the U.S. Up until now, they have mainly been treated with metformin, which inhibits the liver from producing glucose. The formula used to belong to Bristol-Myers Squibb, but has gone generic. Other companies claim to now stock superior drugs that minimize the risk of hypoglycemia. Daryl Loo writes:

Prevalence of Type 2 diabetes, a disease linked to inactivity and excess calories, has more than tripled in China over the past decade, fueling 20 percent-a-year growth in drug sales and straining health services. It’s also stoking need for newer, costlier medications from Merck & Co. (MRK), Novo Nordisk A/S (NOVOB) and Sanofi that help avoid blood-sugar spikes and complications such as heart attack and stroke.

The symptoms of low blood sugar are particularly unacceptable in China because its victims seem to be drunk. Chairman Mao would surely frown, and also be mad enough to bite himself, at the idea of so much wealth flowing to the capitalist pharmaceutical mongerers. Still, for some reason, it only costs the Chinese government medical establishment $194 per year to treat a diabetic patient, versus $5,000 in the U.S. and other developed nations.

The American CDC study collected information between 1995 and 2010. Meanwhile, other events have taken  place, and other societal trends have had the opportunity to impact the behavior, the weight, and the blood sugar level of many more Americans.

Most studies do not produce the kind of definitive answers that are hoped for. With luck, they might be able to point the way to the next stop on a continuum of discovery. Hopefully, they can identify which question might be the most productive to ask next. It’s no accident that every summary of a childhood obesity study or a diabetes study ends with a recommendation to do more research.

What direction should additional research take? The competition for funding is an arduous process, and there are more grant proposals than available dollars to pay for statisticians and mice. The people who decide which avenues to pursue by financially backing the science have to keep several things in mind. One is the lag time. No matter how relevant and promising an avenue of investigation might seem, the information is from data collected up until two or three years ago.

Something could have happened in the meantime that invalidates whatever result this study produced, but nobody knows about it yet or, if the information is available, no one recognizes the significance of it yet, and how it might relate to the problem at hand.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Big rise in Americans with diabetes, especially in South,” Reuters, 11/15/12
Source: “China Diabetes Triples Creating $3.2 Billion Drug Market,” Bloomberg News, 11/05/12
Image by JMR_Photography (JR).

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