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Diabetes and sweetener link scrutinised

health-and-fitness Updated: Nov 28, 2012 01:07 IST
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A new study that found a higher prevalence of diabetes in countries with a high level of fructose corn syrup in their food supplies came under attack before it was even released Monday, highlighting the rising controversy over sweeteners and the role they play in the nation's health.

The study found that type 2 diabetes occurred 20 percent more often in countries where high-fructose corn syrup was in common use, compared with countries where it was rarely - or never - added to food.

The study's authors reached their conclusion by evaluating existing statistics on body mass index, diabetes rates and global food consumption. But the correlation increased after adjustments were made for country level differences in body mass, population and gross domestic product.

"We're not saying that high-fructose corn syrup causes diabetes or that it is the only factor or even the only dietary factor with a relation to diabetes," said Dr. Michael I. Goran, a professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine of the University of Southern California and an author of the study. "But it does support a growing body of evidence linking high-fructose corn syrup and diabetes."

The study included 43 countries where the availability of high-fructose corn syrup ranged from zero kilos per capita, like in India and 13 other countries, to 24.78 kilos (54.6 pounds) per capita in the United States.

Food makers have increased their use of high-fructose corn syrup as an alternative to sugar in sodas, breakfast cereals and baked goods, and its use is expanding globally, although it still is hard to find in foods in many European countries and India.

The study, co-written by Stanley J Ulijaszek, director of the Unit of Biocultural Variation and Obesity at the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Oxford, and Emily E Ventura, a research associate at the Childhood Obesity Research Center at USC, was scheduled for publication Tuesday in the journal Global Public Health.

Dr. Marion Nestle, the author of "Food Politics" and a blog of the same name and a professor at New York University, was critical of the study. "I think it's a stretch to say the study shows high-fructose corn syrup has anything special to do with diabetes," Nestle said. "Diabetes is a function of development. The more cars, more TVs, more cellphones, more sugar, more meat, more fat, more calories, more obesity, the more diabetes you have."

Goran said he was prepared for criticism of the study, because the corn refining industry had attacked previous research he did on high-fructose corn syrup in soda.