A new study offers a global perspective on the relationship between food choices and type 2 diabetes.
-- by Suzanne Boothby
Countries using high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in their food supply have a 20 percent higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes, according to an international analysis by researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) and the University of Oxford. In this study, published in Global Public Health, the researchers also found that this increase was independent of total sugar intake or obesity levels.
“HFCS appears to pose a serious public health problem on a global scale,” said principal study author Michael I. Goran, professor of preventive medicine, director of the Childhood Obesity Research Center, and co-director of the Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute at the Keck School of Medicine at USC. “The study adds to a growing body of scientific literature that indicates HFCS consumption may result in negative health consequences distinct from and more deleterious than natural sugar.”
The United States is the single largest consumer of HFCS, with consumption at more than 55 pounds annually per capita, according to the research. Hungary is the second highest consumer, while Canada, Mexico, and Japan also ranked high. Germany, Poland, Greece, Portugal, Egypt, Finland, and Serbia are among the lowest HFCS consumers.
“This research suggests that HFCS can increase the risk of type 2 diabetes, which is one of the most common causes of death in the world today,” said study co-author Professor Stanley Ulijaszek, director of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford.
Growing evidence shows that the body metabolizes fructose differently from glucose, which has researchers and public health experts concerned about people continuing to consume large amounts of it.
“Most populations have an almost insatiable appetite for sweet foods, but regrettably our metabolism has not evolved sufficiently to be able to process the fructose from high fructose corn syrup in the quantities that some people are consuming it," said Ulijaszek.
Researchers did an ecological analysis of 42 countries using data from the Global Burden of Metabolic Risk Factors Collaborating Group (BMI), International Diabetes Federation Diabetes Atlas, and the FAOSTAT, which is a statistical website maintained by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Countries with higher use of HFCS had an average prevalence of type 2 diabetes of 8 percent compared to 6.7 percent in countries not using HFCS.
The study's researchers recommend updating public health strategies with better labeling of fructose and HFCS content in processed foods to help address the rising global epidemic of type 2 diabetes and the higher healthcare costs that result. Recent research estimates that more than 6 percent of the world's population is diabetic and by 2030, the estimate will increase to almost 8 percent, with developing countries seeing the highest increases.
“If HFCS is a risk factor for diabetes—one of the world's most serious chronic diseases—then we need to rewrite national dietary guidelines and review agriculture trade polices,” said Tim Lobstein, director of policy for the International Association for the Study of Obesity. “HFCS will join trans fats and salt as ingredients to avoid, and foods should carry warning labels.”
A 2004 study linked obesity to the consumption of HFCS found in beverages.
In 2011, scientists also found a connection between the consumption of fructose and HFCS and increased cholesterol levels in young men and women.