You know something's up when the two largest discount retailers in the United States — Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated and the Target Corporation — take it upon themselves to direct their suppliers to remove or restrict the use of certain hazardous chemicals from the products they produce. But that's exactly what has been going on in recent years.
According to Reuters News, the Target Corporation said it is introducing a policy aimed at removing a number of harmful chemicals used in its personal care, beauty and textiles products. This action is on the heels of its move to abolish more than 1,000 chemicals from some of its products in 2015. The retailer also further plans to invest $5 million over the next five years in "green chemistry," a process which involves the reduction or elimination of hazardous substances in products.
Target's announcement comes six months after Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated said it was pushing suppliers to remove or restrict the use of eight hazardous chemicals from some of the products it sells.
The need for taking such actions was highlighted in a recent editorial in the Washington Post by Joseph Allen, an assistant professor at Harvard University's T.H. Chan School of Public Health. According to Allen, when it comes to chemicals, current regulatory policy leaves the door wide open for the replacement of one harmful chemical by another equally or more harmful than the one that was banned.
Many may recall what was viewed as a victory for consumers a few years ago when the harmful, hormone-disrupting chemical known as "BPA" was removed from baby bottles and other plastic products. Come to find, consumers had little reason to rest easy. In some instances, BPA was simply swapped out for a similar chemical potentially even more harmful to children's health. Many parents have now learned that the word "BPA-free" on a baby bottle doesn't necessarily mean the product is safe.
From a regulatory and market standpoint, chemical replacements need only be different enough to be treated as distinct, Allen writes. Because of this, such swapping has become commonplace over the past four decades. He goes on to point out that most of the 80,000 chemicals currently used commercially have not been tested for safety. To do so could take decades and does not include the additional 2,000 added every year.
More government regulations will not solve this problem; certainly not any time soon. Responsible actions by corporations such as Wal-Mart Stores Incorporated and the Target Corporation, supported by our purchasing power and letters of support, may be our best hope at further reversing such practices that prove harmful to our health.
And, while we are talking about chemicals of current concern that may be harmful to our health, let's not fail to mention the compound known as C12H22O11, the formula name for white, granulated sugar.
hAccording to the New York Times, it's estimated that the direct health care costs related to obesity and diabetes in the United States is now reaching $1 billion a day. Economists have calculated the indirect costs to society of the obesity and diabetes epidemics at more than $1 trillion a year. The role refined sugar plays in these epidemics continue to be a hotly debated item and one that has recently taken a new turn.
Current clinical thinking tends to believe that obesity is a problem of energy imbalance. Eat too much; don't move enough and you get fatter. This, in turn, brings on diabetes. But what if this explanation is incorrect? If it is wrong, then the actions taken to reverse or stop the cycle could also be wrong. Science journalist Gary Taubes, speaking with the New York Times' David Bornstein, believes the reason we've failed to curb the obesity and diabetes epidemics is we've misunderstood the cause. We blame eating too much and exercising too little, rather than the carbohydrate content of the diet, specifically sugar.
Taubes describes obesity as a hormonal regulatory disorder. The hormone that primarily drives fat accumulation is insulin. It is the same hormone that triggers diabetes. It's insulin that is the primary driver of the expansion of our fat tissue, he says.
If added or refined sugars cause obesity and diabetes, then Taubes believes we should drop the convention of saying "too much of," or "overconsumption of," or "excess of," in qualifying its impact. Just say sugar causes these diseases. If it's really harmless, then tests should be conducted to conclusively prove it. He also believes that the sugar industry has an obligation to fund those tests.
In the meantime, we know enough to know we have to lower the sugar content in foods and to discourage sugary drink consumption; that, even if mandated, food companies will require time to adapt to putting less sugar in their products.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and data from two consecutive years of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, nearly two-thirds of children and half of adults are drinking at least one sugar-sweetened beverage a day. The most current research shows that among children, sugary drink intake increased with age. For adults, the researchers observed the opposite effect. It seems that for our most vulnerable population the message is neither filtering down or getting through.
Write to Chuck Norris ([email protected]) with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook's "Official Chuck Norris Page." He blogs at http://chucknorrisnews.blogspot.com. To find out more about Chuck Norris and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.