A new study by University of Southern California (USC) and University of Oxford researchers indicates that large amounts of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) found in national food supplies across the world may be one explanation for the rising global epidemic of type 2 diabetes and resulting higher health care costs.
The study reports that countries that use HFCS in their food supply had a 20 percent higher prevalence of diabetes than countries that did not use HFCS. The analysis also revealed that HFCS's association with the "significantly increased prevalence of diabetes" occurred independent of total sugar intake and obesity levels.
The article, "High Fructose Corn Syrup and Diabetes Prevalence: A Global Perspective," is published in the journal Global Public Health.
"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 paper reports that out of 42 countries studied, the United States has the highest per capita consumption of HFCS at a rate of 25 kilograms, or 55 pounds, per year. The second highest is Hungary, with an annual rate of 16 kilograms, or 46 pounds, per capita. Canada, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Belgium, Argentina, Korea, Japan and Mexico are also relatively high HFCS consumers. Germany, Poland, Greece, Portugal, Egypt, Finland and Serbia are among the lowest HFCS consumers. Countries with per capita consumption of less than 0.5 kilogram per year include Australia, China, Denmark, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and Uruguay.
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.
"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.
The article proposes that this link is probably driven by higher amounts of fructose in foods and beverages made with HFCS. Fructose and glucose are both found in ordinary sugar (sucrose) in equal amounts, but HFCS has a greater proportion of fructose. The higher fructose content makes HFCS sweeter and provides processed foods with greater stability and better appearance because of the more consistent browning color when foods made with higher fructose are baked.
In a previous related study, the authors found that the fructose content in some U.S.-produced soft drinks, especially the most popular, was about 20 percent higher than expected, suggesting that some manufacturers might be using HFCS with more fructose than previously estimated. Such differences could "potentially be driving up fructose consumption in countries that use HFCS," the researchers said. The study notes the difficulty in determining the actual amount of fructose in foods and beverages made with HFCS because of "a lack of industry disclosure on food labels."