High Fructose Corn Syrup - Causing the Poor to Become Obese?
A new study from the University of Tennessee in Knoxville traces a disturbing correlation. Before 1990, there was no noticeable correlation between obesity and poverty. Within 25 years, regions in the poverty levels have shown a massive increase in obesity and Type 1 diabetes.
Related - Is Obesity Really That Dangerous?
Researchers charted the relationship between impoverished areas and obesity levels.
Origins of High-Fructose Corn Syrup
As 1841 rolled around, Orlando Jones patented alkali starch extraction. This is a process that separates corn starch from kernels — known as wet milling.
A year later, Thomas Kingford opened the first commercial wet milling plant in the States. Corn has been an agricultural product dating back at least 6,000 years back to the Oaxaca region of Mexico.
This gave corn a natural fit for this process since it’s in abundance. It would take another 20 years before chemists realized you could use corn starch as a sweetener.
So in 1864, the process of producing corn syrup remained the same for about 100 years. In 1967, a new enzyme conversion method was created to commercialize the production of high-fructose corn syrup.
These processes included:
- Removing the starch from dried, shelled yellow #2 dent corn.
- Convert the starch into a syrup through acid hydrolysis.
- Convert that syrup into high-fructose corn syrup, where dextrose sugars are converted into the sweeter fructose sugars.
Corn syrup isn’t as sweet as cane or beet sugar, which is why high-fructose syrup was invented. While the high-fructose part sounds intimidating, it only contains about 55% fructose — compared to most sugars containing 50% fructose.
Sugar is Sugar
No matter how you look at it, sugar is sugar. Regardless of how soda manufacturers want to label their overly sweet beverages as a “healthy option,” you’re still drinking sugar.
Economics play a huge role in high-fructose corn syrup’s availability. It’s topped the sweetener list and provides little nutritional value. Between 1995 and 2010, corn was one of seven crops that received 170 billion from federal government subsidies.
Funny enough, only a small amount of that corn actually feeds us. 40% is used for ethanol production, 36% is in animal feed, and we get 24% that remains. Much of our corn is exported — a small fraction is used directly as food for Americans… most of it is used for high-fructose corn syrup.
All of these subsidies made high-fructose corn syrup so cheap to process and purchase, many food manufacturers have enjoyed the profits while our waistlines expand and our diabetes rates skyrocket.
The new study from the University of Tennessee was published in the online open-access journal, Palgrave Communications on December 11. The information published gives us more insight on the obesity epidemic.
They found that high-fructose corn syrup is particularly linked with obesity among the poor.
Alex Bently heads the UT Department of Anthropology and was a coauthor of the study.
He says, “We found that the relationship between low income and high rates of adult obesity in the U.S. is not observable until the early 1990s. As recently as 1990, this was not a detectable problem.”
The researchers took decades of data from the CDC and the Robert Wood Foundation. This research matched obesity rates and median household income.
The research suggests that poor people in America are disproportionately affected by obesity. From 2004 to 2013, obesity increased about one percent among the top 25 wealthiest counties in the United States. When looking at the 25 poorest counties in the United States, obesity rates increased by 10%.
Bently also notes that 2016 was marked as “peak obesity” in America since it is exactly one generation following peak high-fructose corn syrup use. It became popular and excessively used in the mid-90s in processed foods. The rise of organic foods caused produce and meat prices to increase, so people with low income were forced to consume heavily processed foods.
Obesity in America
Statistics show that over 100,000 Americans die each year due to obesity-related diseases, while two-thirds of American adults are overweight.
The reduction in gut microbiome diversity due to cheap foods is going to be hard to contend with in future generations. We are starting to learn about how important a healthy gut biome is — the fact that high-fructose corn syrup is an essential ingredient in many food sources is destroying our guts.
In 2015, statistics confirmed that over 35 percent of the population was obese in the United States where median household incomes were below $45,000 per year. In state populations where median household incomes were above $65,000, there was an obesity rate of less than 25%.
Wrapping It Up
Excess sugar and carbohydrate intake is a major reason for this trend, but researchers cite high-fructose corn syrup is to blame. In 1970 when it was first introduced, no one used it. In 2000, we ingest about 60 pounds per capita. This totals about half of an individual’s sugar consumption per year.
In 2016, sweetened beverages account for 7 percent of household food expenditures.
So how do we stop this trend?
The answer is simple, but hard to pull off. We simply need to stop purchasing products that contain high-fructose corn syrup. As long as farmers are incentivized to produce a surplus of corn, manufacturers can shave pennies off of production cost when they use it as a sweetener.
Many people have an insatiable sweet tooth, so the addiction is hard to stop. If we can cut back on the sugar we eat and can get the government to stop subsidizing corn, we can make a difference.
We need to read labels carefully, cut out unnecessarily sugary beverages, and quit eating a dessert for breakfast. I used to drink Mountain Dews and have candy and ice cream daily, but since I stopped over-consuming sugar, an apple or banana is really sweet to me. My tastes have changed and I prefer a broader flavor profile other than sugar.
Once you realize how easy it is to stop poisoning your body, the quicker you can get back to living healthy.