Diabetes is one of the most expensively debilitating conditions there is. It is the seventh leading cause of death in the United States with a total estimated cost of $245 billion in 2012. A new study published in Global Public Health shows 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 two diabetes and resulting higher health care costs.
The countries that use HFCS in their food supply have a twenty percent higher prevalence of diabetes than countries that do not use the additive. From an international perspective, the study reports that out of 42 countries examined, the United States has the highest per-capita consumption of HFCS at a rate of 55 pounds per year. This rate is particularly troubling since high-fructose corn syrup is in nearly every processed food Americans buy. Therefore, people will find it difficult to eat foods without it.
The diabetes epidemic among Americans results from many factors. For instance, foods without HFCS are more expensive than foods with HFCS because corn subsidies have made HFCS unbelievably cheap compared to sugar. Moreover, foods with HFCS are more attractive to low income populations. Since there is a large price gap between healthy and unhealthy foods, healthy foods have become much more expensive than artificial foods.
The price gap in addition to the rise in health food stores contributes to food insecurity, a condition that exists when all people lack the physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life. The correlation is very concerning because our society is sedentary and prone to obesity. Hence, healthy diets and physical activity are key factors in reducing non communicable diseases such as diabetes and obesity. Obesity was actually classified as a disease in 2013 by the American Medical Association. It is a leading preventable cause of death worldwide, with increasing prevalence in adults and children. These facts make obesity one of the most serious public health problems of the 21st century.
The strong link between HFCS, diabetes and obesity plays a role in disease burden. For example, the estimated annual medical cost of obesity in the U.S. was $147 billion in 2008; the medical costs for people who are obese were $1,429 higher than those of normal weight. Also, HFCS has negative health effects since it can be a source of inorganic mercury, depending on how it is manufactured.
While HFCS is not perhaps the only cause of these diseases, it is a fact that cannot be ignored. Perhaps the government can encourage society to consume healthier products such as fruits and vegetables by reducing the price gap between these foods and processed foods with HFCS. This will have long term positive effects on public health which can promote good nutrition and lower health care costs. Also, improving health literacy can assist people with food choices since we live in a free society. If society can tackle these issues and put high emphasis on health promotion, we will be closer to achieving our goals for a wholesome society.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup is Deemed “The New Trans Fat” (prnewswire.com)