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The Bitter Truth About Sugar

Praedicat’s Reville: Will sugar join the insurance risk hot list?
  • Meg Green
  • November 2019
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Potential mass litigation over sugar, air pollution and prescription antibiotics could rival lawsuits against companies in the opioids supply chain, said Bob Reville, CEO of data analyst Praedicat.

He spoke with AMBestTV at Les Rendez-Vous de Septembre conference in Monte Carlo, Monaco.

Following is an edited transcript of the interview.

Bob Reville Praedicat

Our No. 1 issue that we’re concerned about is the potential for there to be a government-driven sugar litigation. The local governments have been the largest driver in the United States of things like trying to reduce supersizing or the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in schools.

Bob Reville

You specialize in casualty risk. What do you see as the next asbestos?

This year at Monte Carlo what we're talking about is that really the issue is not about the next asbestos, [but] that we're more worried about the next opioids. As you may know, right now, there is a large-scale mass litigation happening in the United States, where there is concern about the public health impact of opioids.

Some 55,000 people a year are dying as a result of opioids addiction. States, counties, cities and tribal nations are all bringing over 2,000 suits right now to recover the health costs and other sorts of costs associated with the opioids crisis.

This is interesting also, because it's not just lawsuits against the opioids manufacturers, but it's against the distributors and also the retailers. The size of it, in our estimate, could be in the tens of billions of dollars.

Though, because most of the pharmaceutical companies don't buy insurance, there's not likely to be a large insurance footprint. Nonetheless, it creates very important legal precedents. We see other types of similar public health issues with a strong commercial driver that could result in similar types of government mass litigation.

For instance, we see the potential for something like an antibiotics overprescription mass litigation. Deaths from antibiotic resistance in the United States or illnesses that result from antibiotic resistance are now as much as 39,000 people per year.

It's growing every year. It wouldn't be long before it's a public health issue on the scale of opioids. A mass litigation, where counties and states were all looking to have recovery of the medical expenses associated with that could easily result in a mass litigation and tens of billions of dollars as well.

What's interesting about it also, or concerning, is that it would also involve agriculture, where there's heavy use of antibiotics, and where many of the firms are covered by insurance. The insurance impact of a litigation like this would be larger.

We're also looking at the potential for, in light of potentially the federal government reducing air pollution, and a lot of science around the impact of diesel on cardiovascular disease or on things like developmental injury.

That a litigation, where counties, cities, or states were to try to recover those types of health expenses, that also could be tens of billions of dollars and a larger industrial footprint that is covered by insurance.

Finally, our No. 1 that we're concerned about is the potential for there to be a government-driven sugar litigation. The local governments have been the largest driver in the United States of things like trying to reduce supersizing or the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages in schools.

If they were to instead pursue that as a government litigation, you could easily have tens of billions of dollars of damages sought by these governments to cover the health care expenses of obesity, which incidentally, according to the CDC, results in over 100,000 deaths per year in the United States.

This would also be an almost entirely insurance-covered litigation, if the bodily injury were found to be covered by insurance and covered on the occurrence form as well. It could be a very large insurance footprint, indeed.

Would they have to prove some sort of blame? For opioids, there's an attempt to prove that they knew that people would get into trouble, being prescribed opioids. Would that same situation arise with sugar?

I think, in sugar, first of all, there has been a lot of bad press lately about the fact that sugar manufacturers, the sugar industry, was involved in trying to shape the public perception in the United States that it was fat that was driving the obesity crisis.

In fact, it was the sugar the whole time. The argument is that they knew. Whether that would actually be what was found in the litigation would obviously have to play out in the litigation. There also is a lot of science these days around the idea that sugar may be addictive.

Interestingly, if you were to look at the scientific literature and do a query that looks for sugar and obesity—if you did it 10 years ago, and also added to the query addiction, you'd find that there were no hits.

If you did that today, it's about 25%. Scientists are investigating that not only is obesity caused by sugar, but it also might be addictive. Then there may be manipulating of ingredients to cause people to want to consume more of the sugar products.

All of that really makes it convincing as a potential next tobacco. There also is a next tobacco, and that is opioids. The next question is what's next after opioids? That's why we'd say sugar is the next opioids.



Meg Green is a senior associate editor with AMBestTV. She can be reached at

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