Opportunities in stemming diabetes surge

September 03, 2010

It will be telling to map the influence of the healthier eating trend on diabetes incidence across the United States.

It will be telling to map the influence of the healthier eating trend on diabetes incidence across the United States. This trend seemed to accelerate as the recession deepened and people focused on buying necessities rather than junk foods they’d love to have but didn’t absolutely need. On the flip side, better-for-you foods tend to cost more than alternatives laden with sodium and fats to improve taste.

This seesaw battle on shoppers’ minds during store trips complicates matters and makes it tougher to comply with eating regimens that could help keep diabetes at bay.  It is also a tremendous opportunity for supermarkets to step in with objective guidance that would help to simplify purchase decisions. Think store tours to point out smart choices, signage programs to denote unsweetened and lower-glycemic index foods, and pharmaceutical-food regimen management programs that involve pharmacists at the store.

Plenty of people need this help. According to the American Diabetes Association’s 2007 National Diabetes Fact Sheet (the most recent year for which data is available), 23.6 million children and adults in the U.S. (7.8% of the population) have diabetes; of these cases, 17.9 million were diagnosed and 5.7 million were not.  Add to this an astonishing 57 million people who are in a ‘pre-diabetes’ condition (for whom dietary habits could tip the balance), and 1.6 million new diagnosed case in adults age 20 and older each year.

Moreover, a study by the University of Chicago (in the Diabetes Care Journal) projected the number of diagnosed and undiagnosed patients with reach 44 million people by 2034.

Because the health issues stemming from diabetes are critical (the seventh-leading cause of death in 2006), The Lempert Report wonders why supermarkets (especially those with pharmacies) haven’t aggressively aligned with their afflicted consumer base. A person with diabetes influences the foods brought into a household, even if he or she isn’t the chief shopper. Stores should be more involved.

The Ukrop’s chain has run innovative diabetes management programs for many years. Now Raley’s pharmacists are involved in a pilot program caring for some diabetic patients insured by Blue Shield of California through the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, according to a New York Times report.

While diabetes affects many ethnicities, it seems to affect certain native groups more. “Of the 3.3 million American Indians and Alaska Natives in the U.S., about 16% have diabetes, most of them Type 2, says the Indian Health Service, part of the Department of Health and Human Services. That’s almost twice the rate of diabetes in whites,” reported USA Today.  Part of their proactive management of the disease is nutritional counseling in schools and businesses.

In our view, the industry should do more to help consumers repel the disease’s surge through education, healthful alternatives at the shelf and other proactive steps. Retailers and CPG can probably make just as much money selling the right choices.