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Monthly Archives: March 2018

The secret pricetag on your cola bottle

The line at the convenience store is three people deep. Standing in front of me is a 40-something man with a bottle of cola and a newspaper. In front of him, a mother paying her utility bill accompanied by her young daughter. The mum and child leave, and the man moves forward to pay. ?Two dollars?? I overhear him say with surprise? ?I remember when a bottle of cola was one!? As he pays and heads for the door, I too grab a newspaper and cannot help but notice the story on the front cover: the mounting crisis of costs from an obesity epidemic gripping not just the nation, but the planet ? the economic and health systems already struggling to keep pace.

A cloud of sad irony descends on me as I struggle to make sense of this strange set of events. The frustration, not for this one man, but for the system we have collectively created where an individual is so far removed from the bigger economic picture beyond the pricetag of his seemingly expensive drink – when the truer price is vastly more costly. There is a sense of futility in the point that the small price he paid today was in fact the tiny tip of a much larger and deeply troubling fiscal iceberg; an iceberg into which our planet?s health is steadily and obliviously steaming full-pelt.

Then frustration turns to focus as I reaffirm that our greatest health challenges and the resulting economic strain on our societies ? a concern shared by many ? is not a challenge borne or solved by doctors in hospitals, but by economists, business people, policy-makers and market regulators. It is a challenge made in economics, and until these economic realities are understood, progress and especially solutions will remain elusive.

So what are these realities?

Well, when we pay for a cola, soda or any sugary drink, products we know are associated with weight gain, obesity and diabetes ? we pay not one, but three times. Once with our dollars at the checkout, and twice more long after this initial transaction. It is these delayed payments that cause most of the trouble, as they lead to a problem called ?market failure?. This is when the normal forces that define how much of the product is produced and importantly, how much of it we consume, become imbalanced due to unnatural manipulation.

In essence, and to paraphrase Churchill, what many of us overlook is that the costs this man paid for his cola at the counter were actually not the end, but rather just the end of the beginning.

Here?s why?

The price you pay at the counter

The first price we pay for our sugary drink is the few dollars we fork over at the cashier. For a product made from some of the cheapest commodities around ? petroleum-based plastic we pump from the ground, water from the sky, and sugar often subsidized with our own tax dollars ? a few bucks is a pretty steep price in itself. The cost of these raw constituents likely adds up to a few cents, and so the profit on our bottle for the producer is substantial. This is important, because it is this generous margin that allows billions to be spent annually by cola companies on advertising, lobbying policy-makers and even on paying the retailers ? in this case the convenience store ? to place their sugary products at eye height for children, paint the fridge with their colors or splash promotional wares throughout the retail experience.

This price is already high, and we are just getting started.

The price you pay after you drink

Let?s be really clear. Sugary drinks, soft drinks, soda or cola, whatever you call them, they?re bad news for our health. There are almost no other ?foods? that provide no nutrients but a significant proportion of our daily calories across the population. Science has clearly linked their consumption with obesity, child obesity, and diabetes. There is a clear social gradient in most societies ? meaning the poorest members of most communities in wealthier nations drink the most, and increasingly vast numbers of people in poorer nations are taking up the unhealthy habit too. We know that our brain doesn?t recognize the calories in sugary drinks in the same way as solid foods, and these likely become ?extra? calories in addition to normal eating, or may even encourage further eating. And while it would be misleading to suggest that sugary drinks are the sole cause of the global obesity epidemic, we know that their consumption is one key driver.

When we add all this up, soda is very expensive to an individual, because obesity, diabetes and heart disease are expensive. Globally, they are the leading causes of death and key contributors to early (aka preventable) deaths. The health bills, time taken from work because of illness, the disability caused by complications of these debilitating, long-term illnesses and the loss of productive life due to premature death all add up to a huge cost on individuals and their families. These are not far-fetched sums or future, fantasy figures. These are a current, major drain on households across most nations today – the obesity epidemic is estimated to cost Australia over 56.6 billion dollars per annum, and individuals with obesity in America experience a 150% increase in medical spending compared with normal-weight counterparts.

The price you keep paying long after you stop drinking

The final cost relates to the fact that it?s impossible to put the genie, or in this case the fiscal fallout of sugary drinks, back into the bottle once it?s escaped. The collective, long-term cost across our societies is the most frightening figure of all ? for at least two reasons.

The first is the ubiquitous nature of these drinks due largely to the decades of massive marketing campaigns that have normalized and even embedded these unhealthy products in our cultures as beloved and celebrated staples, markers of success and icons of Westernization. Quite simply, red and white cola signs are everywhere, in every city and nation I travel.

The second is due to the amount of these products that many of us now consume. In 2016, Mexico, the United States and Australia consumed 297.5, 270 and 145.3 liters of sugary drinks per capita, respectively.

The sheer scale of consumption and linked ill-health at the macro level is almost unfathomable. Collectively, the direct and indirect health costs across populations and health systems are unsustainable. For many low- and middle-income countries, what starts as a health challenge quickly becomes a barrier to poverty-reduction, and even economic development. The full price is felt eventually, and often by those least able to afford it.

The bitter truth to sugary drinks

Brilliantly profitable for the companies that produce them and the small handful of shareholders that enjoy the end financial windfall, the societal tsunami of health costs from sugary drinks is now lapping at our shores.

This is not about banning or blaming. This is about fair economics, and ensuring families, parents and communities understand the full and transparent picture of what sugary drinks cost, and can therefore make informed decisions about their consumption.

For too long, we have all unknowingly paid a very painful price for the sugary drinks we consume. Deferred, sometimes for years or decades, these costs eventually reap an enormous and bitter burden long after the sweet taste of consumption has left our mouths.


Dr Sandro Demaio works for the World Health Organization in Geneva. This post was written by Sandro in his personal capacity. The views, opinions and positions expressed in this article are the author?s own and do not reflect the views of any third party. Sandro is also co-host of ABC TV?s Ask The Doctor, on Australian television.

– This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.


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Men Really Do Get Less Sexist When They Have Daughters

For many men, having a daughter is a wake-up call to a notion most of us are already on board with: Women are human beings, just as capable as men.

The web is awash in blog posts from fathers earnestly explaining how having a little girl changed their feelings about women ? they?re not just pretty-smelling objects to be ogled, dads say. They face challenges because of sexism, fathers learn as they watch their daughters grow up and confront the world.  

But the daughter effect isn?t merely anecdotal, and it doesn?t simply change men?s attitudes. It can also have profound economic consequences. A new study from researchers at Harvard offers perhaps the most compelling evidence yet: Venture capitalists who have daughters are more likely to hire women to work at their firms and those more diverse firms see improved financial returns.

In other words, the less sexist dads wound up making better business decisions.

?Subtle debiasing can have real effects,? said Paul Gompers, a professor at Harvard Business School who conducted the research with Sophie Wang an economics PhD student at Harvard. They published their findings in a working paper on the National Bureau of Economic Research website.

Other studies of male-dominated professions have come to similar conclusions: Members of Congress with daughters vote more liberally, according to a 2006 study. Research from 2015 found that CEOs with daughters spend more time on social causes. And a 2014 paper found that judges with daughters tend to rule more favorably toward women?s issues.

It also offers yet another strong rebuke to old-fashioned notions about the separation of the sexes, like Vice President Mike Pence?s reported rule that he won?t dine or socialize in ?mixed? company unless his wife is present. (Pence himself has two daughters and one son.)

Raising a girl isn?t always a game-changer for men. No one would mistake Pence or President Donald Trump for feminists. Yet it was at the urging of his daughter Ivanka that Trump included a paid parental leave policy as part of his draconian budget proposal last month. He?s the first Republican president ever to propose such a measure. On the flip side, his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, the father of two girls, was the first president to actually, explicitly call himself a feminist.

There?s also something slightly depressing about the findings. Yes, they make a solid case in favor of diversity and show the powerful way inclusion can lessen bias. But they leave you stranded when it comes to taking action.

?Have more daughters? is not a solid social policy. It?s not much use as the basis for a corporate diversity program. The daughter effect also is reminiscent of the way men in power often respond to sexism or reports of sexual assault or rape by making sympathetic statements with qualifiers like ?as the father of a daughter I am outraged.?

One would hope it wouldn?t be so hard to empathize with women, who make-up half the population. And one wonders if the woman who helped the father create the daughter had similar influence. 

Still the findings are significant. It?s a rare piece of clear evidence into the connection between gender diversity and improved business results ? a link that?s proven difficult for researchers definitively find.

For the study Gompers and his co-author Sophie Wang examined VC firms and VC-backed startups from 1990 – 2016 and sent out email surveys to obtain data on the gender of senior partners? children. They came up with a universe of about 1,400 investors and found that having a daughter (instead of a son) increased the probability of hiring a female investor by 24 percent. The daughter firms saw women comprise 12 percent of new hires, compared to 9 percent in the firms partners had more sons than daughters.

The daughter firms also saw investment returns increase at an average of about 3 percent.

The findings were particularly interesting considering that the VC world ? a small, insular male-dominated sphere that has an outsized effect on the economy ? pumps billions of dollars into tech startups. A stunning 75 percent of VC firms have never had a single female partner, according to prior research conducted by Gompers and other academics.

Typically, VC firms fund entrepreneurs and companies that are similarly male dominated. 

The key to all these findings is simple: Exposure. Men or boys are forced to engage in a real and nonsexual relationship with a female ? and likely, her friends, too. They develop a better understanding of her.  It?s transformative.

You see something similar with sons and mothers. Sons whose mothers work often turn out to have more feminist attitudes, researchers have learned.  And young kids who socialize more in co-ed settings are less likely to believe stereotypes about men and women.

?The more exposure we have to others who are different from us, the more we become debiased,? Gompers told Huffpost. Gompers himself has three daughters ages 25, 21, and 19.  ?Watching their struggles and issues, especially my 25-year-old who is working in a venture backed enterprise software company in New York City has created insights that are certainly dependent upon having daughters.?

Bottom line: The best way to reduce sexism and bias is to mingle with the opposite sex. Who, but Mike Pence, could argue with that? 

– This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.