BIG FOOD AND BIG PHARMACY……….a marriage made in hell.

It is now widely accepted that the biggest healthcare crisis facing counties like Canada today is obesity and the sequelae diseases which obesity spawns like diabetes, heart disease, orthopedic issues etc.   This phenomenon is recent in terms of human history going back perhaps 60 years.   Although there are several reasons for this serious outcome, it is also widely held that lack of adequate exercise and poor diet are significant cause factors.

Children rarely go out to play anymore.  Physical education is no longer a subject taught at school.  Parents believe that unsupervised play is dangerous and endangers child safety while potential child abduction is much less likely than evidence actually indicates.  Video games and watching television have become the major sources of entertainment for children who then become obese adolescents, and eventually obese adults.  TV watching is usually accompanied by constant snacking on high carbohydrate foods.

The price of obesity to society moves in several directions including limiting career opportunities, social issues like self-respect and inter gender relationships, and obesity related diseases which can add up to over a million dollars over an obese person’s lifetime.

The bigger culprit in obesity causation is poor diet, which includes junk food containing high sugar, high fat and high salt content.   We are now all aware of the degree of “science” that so called food manufacturers invest in creating the “bliss point” …the exact proportion of fat, salt, & sugar that creates an insatiable craving for larger and more frequent portions.  This is often referred to as addiction.

What an irony it is therefore to witness the amount these “convenience foods” are marketed and sold in pharmacies, especially the large food drug combos and mass merchandisers.  To add insult to injury, some of these mega drug operations actually market themselves as “centres of health promotion and nutrition”.  Diabetes centres, cancer cure runs, nutrition counselling, blood pressure monitoring etc. etc.  All designed to create the illusion that this is a health focussed environment and not a purveyor of all the stuff that causes many of these same disease states.  Hypocrisy is too mild a term.   This self- promoting image while at once promoting the sale of chips, frozen pizzas, candy, pop, and other mega glycemic garbage foods.

In fact, as we have witnessed, these big food retailers have incorporated pharmacies into their operations with unabashed zeal over the last several decades such that it is rare to go into any food store today without a pharmacy cubicle in the middle of it, or right at the front entrance.  It is well established that pharmacies generate high traffic, which in turn provides for more opportunities to create impulse purchases of junk food.   It is well established that the sales for all non-drug related merchandise goes up by a factor of 1.2 when a pharmacy is included in the mix.   It’s a food drug combo for sure, or maybe a better term would be a health and economic disaster combo.

In the province of BC, this duplicity reaches even further comic proportions than the imagination can bear, as these food drug combos have fought and won the right to sell tobacco products…products which provide a 50% guarantee of causing death and a 90% guarantee of causing serious illnesses like emphysema and cancer.

So where is the pharmacist in this toxic mix?  Stuck right in the middle of this environment…literally, physically planted inside these cubicles surrounded by often useless homeopathic/NHPs and other dubious products like “fat flushes” and “flu busters”.

It is a sad sight to see our honourable profession reduced to being a decoy for the mass retailing of products which cause the very diseases that pharmacists position themselves as dedicated to prevent and/or treat.

It should be mandatory for all pharmacy undergraduates, as early as possible in their curriculum, to be taught the reality of the retail pharmacy marketplace and to initiate a personal career plan which steers them towards professional fulfilment, and away from a position of aiding and abetting these negative career environments.

It is the responsibility of the schools of pharmacy, not only to educate their under graduate students, which they do an excellent job of doing, but also to ensure that the talents and skills taught actually land on fertile ground to the benefit of the societies to whom they owe a professional debt.   This is the challenge that academia faces today, and the sooner it assumes this cause, the sooner we can create the paradigm shift we are looking for and put the profession of pharmacy back into the hands of practicing pharmacists.


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