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Sweetness Versus Science


Corn in the USA

The Science Behind America's Favorite Sweetener

The Debate

The Princeton Study

America's Return to Sugar


References & Links

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Sweetness Versus Science:

The Battle Over High-Fructose Corn Syrup


    The complicated additives in some of our food have over six syllables and can confuse any consumer.  One common and yet often confusing ingredient is a sweetener called high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).  This ubiquitous sweetener that is derived from corn has been the source of controversy in news, books, and even commercials. High-fructose corn syrup, because of its processed nature and prevalence in popular products such as soda, canned fruits, candy, luncheon meats, yogurt, and ketchup, has come under fire for potentially contributing to America’s obesity epidemic.  The average American eats 59 pounds of HFCS per year and this is down from its peak in 1999 of nearly 64 pounds per year (Anthony, 2).

    Have you heard that scientific studies have linked its consumption with obesity?  Or have you seen commercials assuring consumers that it is “made from corn, has the same calories as sugar or honey, and is fine in moderation”?  When faced with conflicting and often complicated scientific evidence what should citizens believe?

    In March 2010 neuroscience researchers from Princeton University released a controversial scientific study announcing findings about HFCS.  They found that rats that consumed HFCS gained significantly more weight than rats that consumed the same amount of calories from table sugar.  Even though many proponents of HFCS have argued that one scientific study does not singled-handedly prove a link between HFCS and obesity, the study did trigger a firestorm of debate.  Professors, food bloggers, scientists, and representatives for the corn industry have all voiced their opinions about this recent study.  The controversy around this study has both questioned science and given it incredible authority.  How did a scientific study about a food sweetener become such a hotly debated topic?

    This website will explore the history of the debate around HFCS then it will examine the positions of stakeholders in this controversy.  The Princeton research is then explored as a case study for how science has reignited the debate and how science is used and framed by pro and anti-HFCS groups.  The broader fears around HFCS have sparked a movement by both food manufacturers and citizens back toward sugar instead of HFCS in many popular products. However, the groups with the largest economic interest to protect HFCS have clouded this controversy with science and vocal opinions to blind consumers to the negative health effects of their products.  Will the American diet continue to center around HFCS?  Who is making that decision?  

Corn on the Cob

Figure 1: Corn on the Cob, photo by Akash k

Corn Sweetener Train Car

Figure 2: Corn Sweeteners Train Car, photo by boeke

Soda Top

Figure 3: Soda Top, photo by Morton Fox

Last updated:  5/7/2010


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