Saving billions of dollars and millions of lives

It must be the Olympics that have me in such an international frame of mind this week. So we might as well turn our attention to the city hosting the games this year. Because it’s not all torches and medals going on in London these days. There are also some significant health-related initiatives happening there recently.

I love London. In fact, I lived there for a year while in medical school. What I don’t like about it (about England, in general, really) is that they have a very severe “nanny” state. They regulate pretty much everything, leaving the individual choices to a minimum. However, I think they are finally getting some things right. At least in theory.

The U.K. is issuing policies to ban trans fats and further reduce salt and saturated fat content in foods. Health experts believe that this move could prevent 30,000 cardiovascular deaths a year in Great Britain. While I may not agree with some of the things they’re trying to restrict, I do agree with their belief that it’s time for stricter government dietary policies.

These policies have already occurred in Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden. Denmark has gone so far as to eliminate industrial trans fats completely. (Back in 2004, I might add.) Other countries–Austria, Canada, Iceland, and Switzerland–as well as several U.S. states are aggressively working to eliminate trans fats, too. But it’s not enough.

Because, honestly, adults–and especially children–deserve better protection from the detrimental effects of cheap junk food and sugary drinks.

I’ve taken a lot of flak over my decision to back mayor Bloomberg’s ban on the sale of sugary drinks larger than 16oz. But, as I see it, there is simply no other choice. When a nation can’t police itself, that’s when the government must step in. After all, it’s their duty to protect its citizens. And sugar is Public Enemy No. 1.

As I said on Tuesday, it’s critical for each of us to take personal responsibility over our own health. And change for the better, one step at a time. It’s the only way we’ll ever truly stop the diabetes epidemic. But stricter government policies can make a faster, even more significant impact on the health of the nation as a whole.

And it has to happen SOON. The complications of diabetes take years to set in…and it’s going to be a costly epidemic. Think about what will happen when all of these diabetics go on Medicare. Of course, it’s possible they could die earlier and end up costing the system less, but who’s to say? So maybe it’s time to try some regulation. Before we lose billions of dollars–and millions of lives.