Koalas eat only eucalyptus, which is basically toxic. They have a special enzyme which allows them to metabolize it, but it requires so much energy (and eucalyptus provides so little) that they basically eat for a few hours and then spend the rest of their time sleeping it off.

This must have evolved so that they could live in an inhospitable habitat, but they are essentially poisoning themselves and then spending 20 hours or so recovering.

This is sort of like what we humans do with sugar and fast food. Or of course liquor and drugs. A diet of sugar and fast food makes us feel low energy and sluggish, and we lie around watching TV or playing video games until we stir ourselves to eat more junk food. But we are not koalas.

We are seeing consequences. Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called “adult onset diabetes,” is now increasingly common among kids as well as adults. Between 2001 and 2009, the rate of Type 2 diabetes among people under 20 rose by 21%.

Diabetes is really dangerous. Complications from diabetes include heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, neuropathy, and death.

The rise in Type 2 diabetes in young people is associated with obesity, a sedentary lifestyle, and poor food choices — particularly sugar and fast foods. The average American kid spends 7 hours in front of a screen. Only one third of kids get 60 minutes of activity a day. That average kid also snacks up to 10 times a day, and gets 25% of his or her calories from fast food. This pattern begins at age 2.

That steady stream of sugar messes up the pancreas’s ability to manage energy and digestion with insulin. Combine that with a lack of movement and it’s like calling out your fire department all day long, with no time for rest or exercise (as the Whole 30 authors say). Since we’re not koalas, the system breaks down completely. That’s diabetes.

12% of Americans now suffer from diabetes. A third of them don’t know they have it. Those who know about it may still find that it’s really hard to make the required lifestyle choices, and really expensive to control the disease with medication.

Only 5% of adults get the amount of exercise required for health. 94% snack every day, usually two or three times, usually to satisfy a craving rather than hunger. Millennials snack four times a day, often because they feel bored or stressed. Older Americans didn’t grow up grazing all day, but younger Americans may snack instead of or in addition to eating meals. One of the most common reasons for snacking among young adults is that it isn’t mealtime.

#2 daughter and I were discussing this and I said I thought that poor food choices and lack of exercise is our top public health problem now. This is the reason that our life expectancy is falling. #2 daughter thought that the opioid epidemic is more serious.

I don’t agree, because I think that taking drugs is a choice. Overdosing is a likely consequence, and people who choose to use drugs know this. Two year olds with Coke in their bottles (20% of U.S. babies get soda in their bottles) don’t know this. When their parents park them in front of the TV with a handful of cookies, these children are not making a choice.

By the time these kids are parents themselves, they don’t know any other way to live. They’re used to a steady stream of sugar washing through their systems, providing spikes of energy that leave them craving more sugar. They don’t feel like running around outside. They’re living like koalas.

But we’re not koalas.