Study linking diabetes with sweetener starts row before its release

Stephanie Strom / New York Times News Service /

Published Nov 27, 2012 at 04:00AM

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 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, co-written by Stanley 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 Ventura, a research associate at the Childhood Obesity Research Center at USC, was scheduled for publication Tuesday in the journal Global Public Health. But a copy reached the Corn Refiners Association, the industry group representing the companies that produce high-fructose corn syrup, which on Monday fired off a rebuttal. “This latest article by Dr. Goran is severely flawed, misleading and risks setting off unfounded alarm about a safe and proven food and beverage ingredient,” Audrae Erickson, president of the association, said in a statement.

Dr. Marion Nestle, the author of “Food Politics” and a blog of the same name and a professor at New York University, also 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.”