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High Fructose Corn Syrup: The Cause for America's Bulging Waistline?

This entry was created by a student in Stanford's Rhetoric of Food Science and Politics class. For more about the class and the assignment, click here.

As a child, I was extremely overweight. After learning about possible health consequences of obesity, I decided to dramatically change my lifestyle.

Today, 6 years older and 60 lbs lighter, I am still obsessed with food – but instead of shoving food into my mouth, I meticulously scrutinize every nutrition facts label I find. As nearly 2/3 of Americans are overweight, I am extremely curious as to why Americans are becoming so fat so quickly. Since I have heard many news reports about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and its responsibility for America’s bulging waistline, I decided to do my research paper on HFCS and its link to obesity.

Because I realize that the media often exaggerates issues, I wanted to examine scientific sources to determine the real evidence against HFCS. While looking for sources, I came across a literary review by Suzanne P. Murphy, Director of Nutrition Support Shared Resource at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii.

Contrary to what I’ve heard on the news, Murphy argues that “it is not clear whether the differential metabolic effects between fructose and glucose can result in differences in energy storage”. In other words, Murphy does not believe that fructose has a more significant impact on weight gain than glucose. She does, however, note that consuming fructose in high amounts may increase the risk for chronic diseases. Therefore, Murphy encourages further research to be done on HFCS. She even includes examples of possible research projects, including correlational studies, studies with lab animals, and long term observational studies with humans.

However, because sucrose – ordinary, safe table sugar - and HFCS contain similar amounts of fructose, Murphy argues that HFCS should be declared as safe. Instead of focusing on HFCS, Murphy asserts that a healthy diet should be low in all added sugars. Murphy’s article was very helpful to me because it explained some of the issues behind the HFCS controversy and elaborated on possible research-based solutions. For my research-based argument, I plan to examine some of these solutions and their implications for America’s health and economy.

Murphy, Susan. "The State of the Science on Dietary Sweetners Containing Fructose: Summary And Issues to Be Resolved." Journal of Nutrition (2009): 1269s-1270s. Web. 16 Feb 2010..


I have done some prior reading on HFCS, and I'm surprised Murphy has labelled it as safe. While the energy storage rates may be similar, HFCS has been linked with liver and heart diseases. So you are probably right in saying that it doesn't make you more fat, but there are serious harmful effects other than just obesity involved. For your research, I'm not sure you will find a great solution to the problem, I don't think the issue has had enough public attention yet. You may be better off analyzing one specific controversy involved with HFCS (e.g., link between HFCS and heart disease) and discuss its validity, and implications for American health and economy.

Noting the fact that sucrose is a combination of glucose and fructose, and HFCS is just separated glucose and fructose, I was wondering what the possible dangers of HFCS could be since it is so similar in composition to sucrose. I would tend to agree with Murphy's point about HFCS being as safe as sucrose in general, but maybe you would want to look at the differences in consumption of HFCS and sucrose and how that may play a part in the controversies over HFCS's safety. If people just tend to eat more HFCS than sucrose, that could be the reason for the scrutiny of HFCS's role in increasing obesity. A source on how similar levels of consumption of sucrose and HFCS could lead to similar weight gains would be very valuable to this topic I think if you want to argue the misrepresentation of HFCS by media. I would also agree that Murphy is correct about reducing all forms of sugar consumption in controlling weight, since that just seems like common sense.

Yeah, HFCS is certainly an interesting topic due to its prevalence throughout American foods. I agree that the media frequently takes evidence out of context and dramatizes it for greater interest. However, for HFCS, there does appear to be evidence in support of both sides of the argument (which is hampered by the fact that many of the studies are funded by interest-groups). Do you think insightful independent research could be conducted without introducing commercial influences?

Good post, thanks

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