As the number of overweight and obese people in the United States continues to grow, so does the problem of diabetes. It is a ticking time bomb that threatens to overwhelm our healthcare and insurance system—an estimated $3.4 trillion increase in healthcare and related costs in the next decade. Functional Ingredients turned to Rhonda Witwer of National Starch Food Innovation.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, some 35 percent of us over the age of 20 have prediabetes (elevated levels of blood glucose illustrating a degree of insulin resistance). Fifty percent of us over the age of 65 have this condition. One study determined that by 2020, 50 percent of us would have either prediabetes or diabetes.
To discover what this means and what innovative approaches to the problem might have a chance to actually make a difference, Functional Ingredients turned to Rhonda Witwer of National Starch Food Innovation. Witwer and National Starch have been working on this problem for years.
Fi: What is the market potential for products/ingredients that may be helpful in managing and/or preventing diabetes?
Witwer: There is a convergence of factors that we think indicates that ingredients such as National Starch’s Hi-maize are on a trajectory similar to that of omega-3s. The magnitude of the low-carb fad gives an indication of the very, very large size of the opportunity.
Second, in the medical community, “metabolic syndrome” is well accepted, with insulin resistance and abdominal obesity identified as the underlying risk factors. It is all too apparent that loss of control of blood sugar (onset of type 2 diabetes) is the last step in a long progression of losing insulin sensitivity.
Third, the insurance community is being held accountable for cost control. Prevention is becoming a strong and viable option. Insurance companies are now funding weight-loss programs in collaboration with the YMCA, heart health programs in collaboration with the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation and more. As dietary approaches to managing high blood sugar become available and credible, the insurance community will drive their adoption for the cost savings alone. With 80 million prediabetics in this country, it is economically cheaper to prevent type 2 diabetes than to treat it once it develops.
Fi: What are the challenges the ingredient and natural-food industries face in developing solutions?
Witwer: Three main areas:
1.The ability to influence consumers’ awareness and change their behaviors. In fact, of the estimated 79 million American adults with prediabetes, only 7.3 percent were aware that they had it.
2.The development of sound science on any of the proposed ingredient solutions, and communicate that sound science in consumer-friendly terminology.
3.The ability to develop and implement ingredient solutions or food products that can be successful within existing consumer behavior patterns.
Fi: Is the naturals channel currently your best bet for Hi-maize, and might this hold true for other products?
Witwer: The need is too urgent to limit the creativity with which we respond. Some ingredients will work better as supplements, others as ingredient replacements in re-formulated products. We don’t expect that Hi-maize will be sold in the traditional ‘pill’ form because of the amounts required to achieve the results seen in our most recent insulin sensitivity study –
3 tablespoons or 25 grams.