In 1977, a series of tariffs and quotas imposed by the United States on the importation of cane sugar caused sugar prices to rise and US producers to seek another source of sweetener. Simultaneously, farm subsidies sponsored by the US Government ensured that the price of corn dropped, resulting in a huge incentive for those same producers to use high-fructose corn syrup, an artificially derived product that was vastly cheaper than table sugar.
Coincidentally, obesity rates began to rise precipitously over the course of the last three decades, with about 59 million Americans now reportedly obese, which is classified as 30lbs or more over their healthy weight. Statistics show that if this trend continues, 2 in 5 Americans will be obese within the next five years.
Is there a direct correlation? If you ask the Corn Refiners Association, composed of Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, Corn Products International, and Tate & Lyle Ingredients Americas, there most definitely is not. In fact, they are so upset by the insinuations, that they have mounted a public relations campaign in 2008 called, “Changing the Conversation About High Fructose Corn Syrup” and launched a website entitled ‘Sweet Surprise’. However, both their PR campaign and website have been accused by the scientific and medical community of containing false statements.
Now, it’s true that one cannot directly attribute the rise in obesity to only High Fructose Corn Syrup. There are a number of factors involved, from the increase in price of other vegetables and fruits, consumption of fast food, and hours spent watching television. However, a number of scientific studies have shown alarming results when it comes to the consequences of ingesting 65lbs of HFCS a year (the average rate for 2005, which comes to 110,000 calories).
Let’s take a look at a couple of them. in 2005, a study on the effects of fructose on mice discovered that it increased their obesity rates (1). In 2008, another study showed that a diet high in fructose caused rats to become resistant to leptins, such that when they were then fed a diet high in fat, they gained more weight than rats that did not have the leptin resistance (2). Another 2004 study implicated fructose with weight gain (3), while a 2007 study showed that rats who were given as much fructose as they wanted to injest began to show signs of fatty liver disease and early onset of type II diabetes (4).
This puts me in mind of the media wars that were waged between Big Tobacco and the health advocacy groups in the 50’s. The Corn Refiners Association is seeking to prevent any change to their massive income generator, and to do this they are willing to make false statements and launch massive media campaigns, despite the evidence that HFCS is linked to the rise in obesity.
So what can you do? The problem is that HFCS is everywhere. It’s in bread, cookies, soft drinks, yogurt, salad dressings, soups, and more. As a result, it’s almost impossible to avoid unless you are on the lookout. So read the ingredients label of products before you buy them. And if you see HFCS? Just put that box down, and get something more natural and healthy for you.
1. Jurgens, Hella; et al. (2005). “Consuming Fructose-sweetened Beverages Increases Body Adiposity in Mice” (abstract). Obesity Res 13: 1146–1156. doi:10.1038/oby.2005.136. http://www.obesityresearch.org/cgi/content/abstract/13/7/1146.
2. Shapiro, Alexandra; Wei Mu, Carlos A Roncal, Kit-Yan Cheng, Richard J. Johnson, and Philip J. Scarpace (November 2008). “Fructose-Induced Leptin Resistance Exacerbates Weight Gain in Response to Subsequent High Fat Feeding”. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol 295 (5): R1370–5.
3. Elliott, Sharon S; Nancy L Keim, Judith S Stern, Karen Teff and Peter J Havel (April 2004). “Fructose, weight gain, and the insulin resistance syndrome1”. Am J Clin Nutr. 79 (4): 537–43. PMID 15051594.