PREPARED REMARKS: Chairman Sanders Leads HELP Committee Hearing on Diabetes Epidemic and Obesity Epidemic in America

WASHINGTON, Dec. 14 – Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today led a committee hearing on the diabetes epidemic and obesity epidemic in America, what is fueling these crises, and what must be done to address them.

Sanders’ opening remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below and can be watched here:

The Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions will come to order.

In America today we have a diabetes epidemic that is having a huge impact on our country and must be addressed.

Diabetes is not only a serious illness unto itself, but it is a contributing factor to heart disease, stroke, amputations, blindness, and kidney failure.

Type-1 diabetes is a major problem that impacts over 1.4 million Americans and we are going to be discussing that issue today. My understanding is that Senator Cassidy has brought two witnesses who are extremely knowledgeable about type-1 diabetes.

But I’d like to focus my remarks on type-2 diabetes which impacts about 95% of Americans with diabetes.

There is a whole lot that can be said about the diabetes crisis in America.

Here are just a few of the questions I would like to raise:

First, and most importantly, why have we seen a huge increase in the number of people in America who have developed diabetes over the last 50 years? What has changed?

Second, how is diabetes impacting our healthcare system?

Third, given the huge number of people who are struggling with diabetes, how can we make the treatments for this serious illness available to everyone who needs it regardless of income? Further, how can we save money in Medicaid, Medicare and other public health programs that pay for the treatment of diabetes as well as private health insurance?

First, the problem. Today, in America over 35 million Americans – over 10% of our population – have type-2 diabetes.

And the cost of treating that disease is staggering.

According to the American Diabetes Association, the total cost of diabetes in the U.S. was nearly $413 billion last year – up 27% over the past six years. This amounts to about ten percent of our total health care expenditures.

And when we talk about the type 2-diabetes epidemic, and the huge increase in new cases, we must also talk about the epidemic of obesity in America. Some 90% of people with type-2 diabetes are overweight or obese. These two epidemics go hand in hand.

A key question that we must discuss: How did it happen that, according to the CDC, the rate of childhood obesity in America has tripled since the 1970s and has gotten so bad that one out of every five kids, and over 40 percent of adults, in our country today are now obese?

Why is it that, according to the CDC, the number of children in America with type-2 diabetes is estimated to skyrocket by nearly 700% over the next 40 years unless we take action to reverse course?

The answers to those questions are not complicated.

For decades, we have allowed large corporations in the food and beverage industry to entice children to eat foods and beverages loaded up with sugar, salt and saturated fat purposely designed to be overeaten.

The situation has gotten so bad that most of what children in America eat today consist of unhealthy, ultra-processed foods that doctors have told us lead to a higher risk of type-2 diabetes.

Alarmingly, according to a recent study that will be discussed this morning, ultra-processed foods, which make up an incredible 73 percent of our nation’s food supply, can be as addictive as alcohol and nearly as addictive as cigarettes.

While the diabetes and obesity rates in America soar, while we spend hundreds of billions to treat diabetes, the food and beverage industry spent $14 billion last year on advertising to make many of their unhealthy products appealing to the American consumer.

Even worse, $2 billion of this money is used to directly market food predominantly high in sugar, salt and saturated fat to our children in order to get them hooked on these products at an early age.

According to the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, children and teens view about 4,000 food and beverage ads on television every year, an average of ten advertisements each day.

Another study found that children who watch Nickelodeon and Nicktoons are exposed to over ten unhealthy food and beverage ads every hour.

Let me give you one example. Last year, for example, Coca-Cola spent $327 million on advertising in the United States alone. Not one of their ads will tell you that drinking one or two cans of Coke a day will increase your chances of getting type-2 diabetes by 26 percent. Nor will their tv ads tell you that one 20-ounce bottle of Coke contains over 15 teaspoons of sugar – more than twice the recommended daily limit for kids under the age of 18.

Nearly 30 years ago, Congress had the courage to take on the tobacco industry whose products killed over 400,000 Americans every year. Congress did that then.

Now is the time for us to seriously combat the type-2 diabetes and obesity epidemic in America. In order to do that, we must have the courage to take on the greed of the food and beverage industry which, every day, is undermining the health and well-being of our children.

And, in my view, a good place to start would be to ban junk food ads targeted to children.

This is not a radical idea.

The NIH has estimated that if the US banned fast-food advertising marketed to children, we could cut the childhood obesity rate in our country by up to 18 percent.

In the 1980s, Quebec banned junk food advertising to children. Today, Quebec has the lowest childhood obesity rate in Canada and the highest consumption of fruits and vegetables of any province in their nation.

Ireland, Sweden, South Korea, Taiwan, Spain, Portugal and several other major countries throughout the world have either seriously restricted or banned junk food ads targeted to children.

In addition to addressing the causes of type-2 diabetes, there is another important issue that we have got to deal with. We have got to make certain that the treatments available to people with diabetes are affordable for all Americans, are not bankrupting federal health insurance programs, or raising the cost of private insurance.

The very good news is that a new class of treatments for diabetes and obesity like Ozempic and Mounjaro (Moon-jar-o) have the potential to be a game changer with respect to this major epidemic.

According to clinical trials, these drugs, which suppress appetites, have been estimated to help people lose 15 to 20 percent of their weight.

The bad news is that these drugs also have the potential to bankrupt Medicare and the American people.

According to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine, if just 10 percent of people with obesity on Medicare took these drugs, it could cost Medicare up to $27 billion a year driving Medicare premiums way, way up.

Further, incredibly, these drugs (Ozempic and Mounjaro) are up to 15 times more expensive in the United States than they are in other major countries.

For example, Ozempic, manufactured by Novo Nordisk, costs $12,000 a year in the United States, but just $750 in Germany.

Mounjaro, manufactured by Eli Lilly, costs $13,000 in the United States but just $2,000 in the United Kingdom.

Incredibly, it has been estimated that Eli Lilly, Novo Nordisk and others in the pharmaceutical industry stand to make as much as $150 billion off of these drugs – each and every year – while charging the American people, by far, the highest prices in the world for these drugs.

That is unacceptable to me and to the American people who are sick and tired of being forced to pay, by far, the highest prices in the world for prescription drugs while the pharmaceutical companies make tens of billions in profits.

That is why I will be soon introducing legislation to prevent the pharmaceutical industry from charging the American people more for prescription drugs than they charge in other major countries like Canada, Britain, Germany, France and Japan.

If this bill were signed into law it could cut the price of prescription drugs in the United States by more than 50 percent.

And for obscenely expensive drugs, the savings could be far more.

If this legislation were enacted, it has been estimated that the price of Ozempic could be reduced from $12,000 a year to just $1,200.

In my view, we cannot continue to let pharmaceutical companies rip off the American people by charging whatever price they want for their products.

A prescription drug is not safe or effective for a patient who cannot afford it.

Senator Cassidy, you are now recognized for an opening statement.