Nutrition experts and health activists have been pushing Americans to drink less sugar water. That has sparked soda-tax campaigns and put pressure on the soft-drink companies, which don’t want to get cast as the next cigarette industry.
Now Coca-Cola has discovered that one of its responses to this pressure — selling its products in smaller portions, at a higher unit price — has a salutary side effect: It has boosted Coke’s profits (Bloomberg). Is this is a case of doing right leading to doing well? Or simply an instance of milking some desperate last profits from an aging product category before the march of demographic change leaves it behind? Either way, anything that helps people reduce sugar calories — or even better, replace them with more nourishing alternatives — deserves a cheer.
A conversation with the peripatetic Dr. Jordan Shlain on the “hairball” of healthcare, insurance companies, sugar in our food, and why you have to keep filling out the same form over and over
Dr. Jordan Shlain is a fixture in the Silicon Valley scene, a sharp witted, opinionated, and always on physician whose unusual career includes founding several health-related companies, inventing a new approach to private practice, co-founding a non-profit dedicated to redefining society’s approach to sugar in our foods, and launching Tincture, a publication which seeks to elevate our cultural conversation around health. Shlain also frequently flies to Washington, DC, where he speaks to policy makers about the frustrating realities of healthcare as a practicing physician.
Shlain is also a close friend, and he happens to be my doctor as well. He’s deeply connected to nearly every specialist in the Bay area and beyond, and is certainly a good man to know should you ever find yourself in a complicated or challenging health crisis. His approach to patient care is not for everyone — his practice, which has offices in San Francisco, Silicon Valley, and Los Angeles, is high end and quite selective. But while many doctors are experimenting with atypical approaches to primary care, Shlain stands out for his outspoken beliefs about how our healthcare system is broken, and what it will take to fix it.
Wait, what? U.S. household incomes are way up. That’s right, you’re not hallucinating — new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show the median American household income rose 5.2 percent in 2015, to $56,500 (The Wall Street Journal). That’s lower than it stood at the most recent economic peaks, in the mid 2000s and the late 1990s, but still, it’s impressive — and the fastest growth rate on record, too (The Washington Post). The poverty rate is also down, as is the percentage of the population without health insurance. The long tide of recovery is finally lifting a whole lot of boats, with the gains spread widely across the population. The one major exception? People who live outside of metropolitan areas aren’t gaining. Here, as in so many other realms, cities are driving the future. The big questions now are: Can we keep these gains up? Will they make a difference in the perception of inequality stoked by long-term trends in income distribution? And will populist discontent simmer down — or will we face a “revolution of rising expectations,” as people who get a little taste of economic betterment demand a fuller portion?
Sugar’s road to pariah-hood. Industries like the tobacco business don’t become pariahs overnight: The lengthy process starts with a demonstrated danger to the public and ends with strict regulations and a lot of corporations giving themselves new names. One of the most important in-between steps is the revelation that the industry manipulated scientific research to hoodwink the public. Big Sugar just checked off that box (Bloomberg). A new paper in JAMA Internal Medicine documents a successful 1960s-era effort by the sugar lobby, which paid Harvard scientists to emphasize the heart-health dangers of fats and minimize links between heart disease and sugar. Yes, those were different times, but we’re still living in the world these policy influencers shaped. If the sugar-beverage industry hopes to escape the dead end that swallowed up Big Tobacco and threatens the fossil fuel industry, it needs to come clean and demonstrate that it’s not still polluting our data supply. (For more on the sugar story, see our NewCo Shift Dialog with Dr. Jordan Shlain and our piece on sugar here.)