Over the last few decades, a world-wide epidemic has spread- one that is not caused by germs, but is instead caused by changes in our diets. The epidemic I am talking about effects 600 million adults world-wide and a staggering 34% to 78 million adults in the United States; a stat that has nearly doubled since 1980. I am of course referring to obesity- a disease that is “inextricably linked” to other diseases, such as type two diabetes and cardiorenial syndrome . In other words, if something causes obesity, it is also causing other diseases, making it even more dangerous to our health.
The U.S. makes up over 10% of the total cases in the world and effects such a high percentage of its population, that I will focus on the U.S. stats.
As you can see, the percentage of adult Americans that were either obese or very obese, were stable prior to around 1980- with about 15% being obese and virtually no cases of extreme obesity. There are several things that unquestionably contribute to the rise in obesity. Many bring up our sedentary lifestyles or eating bigger portion sizes as contributing factors. A study looking at the portion sizes consumed from ’77 to ’97 found that everyone paying attention, knew that we were eating bigger sizes (the beginning of the video at the bottom addresses this). I, however, want to discuss two things that happened at or around 1980, that caused a very drastic increase in both categories- the date the rise started.
The first was that the USDA introduced new nutritional guidelines that focused on removing fats from our diets, which introduced food and drink products that contained little to no fat. This policy has convinced many Americans to avoid foods with high fat content, many of these foods have been staples of our diets for centeries are very healthy. This is based on the idea that fats, particularly saturated fats , are unhealthy to the heart and cause other systemic problems, such as weight gain. This theory has been pretty convincingly debunked as of late by more recent scientific studies, yet these guidelines are still the official policy today.
The second thing that happened around the same time of the rise of obesity, was the gigantic increase in High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). As you can see from the graph to the left and in this 2004 biometric study , the increased use of HFCS in the United States mirrors the rapid increase in obesity there. The study shows HFCS consumption increased by more than 1000% between the 70’s and the 90’s. This far exceeded the changes in intake of any other food or food group. In fact, at the time of the study, HFCS represented more than 40% of caloric sweeteners added to foods and beverages and the sole caloric sweetener in soft drinks in the United States.
The scary thing about all these stats are that they are calculated assuming that HFCS has a ratio of 50% fructose and 50% glucose (which is easily absorbed and used as fuel for the body), like the industry scientist claim. However, two recent independent studies (here and here) show that the average ratio of the companies they studied (mostly name brand) was 60% fructose and 40% glucose, making the fructose content 50% more than the glucose and not equal like they claim. These two studies suggest the stats (from the study in the last paragraph) need adjusting and are quite a bit lower than they actually are.
So now that we see the correlation between HFCS and the rise in obesity, lets discuss what about HFCS can cause the disease.
There are a few studies that show the association between HFCS and obesity. Some of the studies were conducted on rats (like the one from this Princeton article), while others study its effects on over weight and obese people (like this study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation). Studies like these are good, but are a little much for most laymen to read through. So I feel the best way for a novice to understand HFCS effects on obesity is by watching lectures by Dr. Robert Lustig .
Dr. Lustig is a UCSF Professor of Pediatrics in the Division of Endocrinology. He is a leading expert on obesity- specifically childhood obesity. What I love the most about his lectures is that he explains the subject matter in plain enough language that laymen can understand. He also has a good sense of humor, making you forget you’re listening to what is normally a boring subject to many people.
Sugar: The Bitter Truth (the video is posted below) is his most popular lecture/presentation (as far as YouTube views). This presentation shows how and why the average American is consuming 141 lbs. of sugar annually, with fructose making up 63 lbs. of that total. He says the obesity epidemic is not caused because we are eating more calories, but instead caused because we are eating more sugar, specifically. He doesn’t mince his words and repeatedly calls fructose a poison because of how it interacts with the body. For instance, it affects the body’s bio-chemical feedback hormone called peptin; which is found in the fat cells and is responsible for telling the brain you are full and helps you burn energy properly.
This lecture is so thorough and well researched, that it’s a must watch if for anyone who wants to take their health seriously. It truly gives you the knowledge you need to take control of your health and in my opinion, should really be shown in schools all across this country.
Sadly, obesity is not the only disease HFCS is linked to so you will see more article on Unveiling Knowledge about it. However, hopefully not to many more articles because if I stop writing them it means HFCS has been banned from our food supply.