Is HFCS the culprit in the “Obesity Crisis”?
NAAFA is reporting mounting evidence that high fructose corn syrup leads to higher rates of obesity.
Researchers at Princeton University found that HFCS is not the same as sugar when it comes to weight gain. Rats who ate HFCS gained significantly more weight than rats who ate table sugar — even when their caloric intake was the same. In addition, long-term consumption of HFCS also led to abnormal increases in body fat (especially in the belly) and an increase in circulating blood fats called triglycerides.
“Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true, at least under the conditions of our tests,” said Bart Hoebel, Ph.D. “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese — every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.”
This is very interesting, and frankly, a bit alarming–but perhaps not for the reasons you might think. I’m not alarmed that HFCS is making us fatter, because I don’t believe I have seen evidence that this is such a terrible thing. It’s not good, of course, but in the grand scheme of things, I don’t think we need to panic over this.
What I am concerned about is that this may cause/bolster moral panic about fatness. You know, the kind of panic that shames, “if you hadn’t drank all that soda and eaten all that candy, fatty, you might not have gotten fat. And now that you are fat, you fatty fat fatty, you are going to make me and my family fat too and we’re all going to DIE.” That kind of moral panic doesn’t address social and political factors that lead to certain types of food being consumed in greater quantities than others among USAmericans, particularly by more folks of lower socio-economic class and non-white race. I’m talking about things like US government subsidies for corn, beef, and dairy and lack of subsidies for fresh fruits and vegetables (warning for both links; the first one is very fatphobic and the second one contains some fatphobic content).
I’m also concerned that this is going to make people think even more that all fat people consume huge quantities of “junkfood” and all thin people are eating healthfully. That is simply not true, and it doesn’t do any of us any good to assume that. Just as a case in point, my husband has always been thin, and before meeting me, he used to take a 12oz can of regular (not diet!) soda to lunch with him every single day at work. I expressed surprise when I saw Costco-cases of Coke in his pantry, because, not being a soda drinker myself, I couldn’t imagine how any single person would want to have that much Coke around. (Note: I was surprised but not judgmental; my husband is an adult and can decide what types of food and drink he wants to put in his body and he doesn’t need any unsolicited input from me thankyouverymuch). After we talked about it, he thought about it for a while and ultimately decided that he didn’t want to be taking in that much HFCS every day, so he has switched to a reusable water bottle with his lunch.
So in this case, the HFCS wasn’t making him fat (so just because it appears to make “every rat” fat in the study, it clearly does NOT make every person who consumes it fat). And, I was fat despite never touching the stuff. Seriously, the only time I consume HFCS is if I don’t know that it’s in something I’ve been served at a friend’s home or a restaurant. Before writing this post, I went searching through our cupboards, scouring our whole condo for something—anything—that had HFCS in it, and I couldn’t find a single thing. This isn’t to put myself up on some moral high horse about food, but rather to point out that we’re really not eating much HCFS. But my thin husband has put on a little bit of weight lately, after cutting HFCS out of his diet. And I didn’t lose any weight at all when I made an effort to cut it out as completely as possible, about 8 years ago. If anything, I’ve put on weight since then.
But anyway, my whole point here is that yes, we should pay attention to this study because if HCFS is making us fatter, that is interesting to know. But just getting fatter isn’t necessarily terrible, and there may be other, much more serious, problems associated with consumption of HCFS. But while it is interesting, this study is not a magic bullet that suddenly solves the so-called “obesity crisis.” The issue is complex—socially, politically, and medically. And we have to keep in mind that when we’re talking about obese people and potential reasons we are obese, we are talking about people, not lab rats.