Is HFCS the Devil’s Candy? (Part 2)

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Last time, Childhood Obesity News recalled an article from a few years back, full of warnings about high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). It wasn’t the only such piece to be found, not by a long shot. But it made the interesting suggestion that HFCS is the devil’s candy. Now we follow the progress of HFCS’s ascendency over the past few years.

In 2010, pollsters made the shocking discovery that 58% of Americans were worried about the health risks posed by high fructose corn syrup. Worse, some food manufacturers had stopped using HFCS and gone back to using cane or beet sugar. To anyone concerned about obesity, that is not an impressive move. It’s sort of like replacing gray clay with red clay. The difference is only cosmetic.

The Corn Refiners Association grew worried about its public relations image and decided that it would make a lot of sense to start a movement to call the product “corn sugar.” Application was made to the Food and Drug Administration, which doesn’t much cotton to name changes. Because of people’s weird associations with “prune,” fruit packagers can now sell dried plums instead. The benevolent-sounding canola oil used to be called “low erucic acid rapeseed oil.” Yuck! (This fascinating information on previous name changes comes from Tara Parker-Pope of The New York Times.)

The reporter also asked the Corn Refiners Association for a comment. Obligingly, Audrae Erickson replied:

Clearly the name is confusing consumers. Research shows that ‘corn sugar’ better communicates the amount of calories, the level of fructose and the sweetness in this ingredient.

Another apologist is Lauren R. Hartman, chief editor of the Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery blog, who says:

Some of the leading experts contend that all sweeteners metabolize the same way, but HFCS has come under fire for containing an ingredient that causes body fat… Some reports early on indicated that HFCS, which is produced by converting sugar (glucose) in corn starch to fructose, showed a link between increased consumption of sweetened beverages (many of which contained HFCS) and obesity.

Doubt and confusion — the currency of deception

There is research showing that HFCS is no more an obesity villain than other sweeteners, but some of that research seems to have been backed by the Corn Refiners Association. According to other researchers, HFCS is to blame for messing up the body’s metabolic functions somehow, and causing or exacerbating many serious medical conditions. Some people who might be expected to object to HFCS are not convinced by the evidence, such as the eminent Marion Nestle.

Even the term “high fructose corn syrup” is confusing, because, as Parker-Pope explains:

High-fructose corn syrup and sucrose (also known as table sugar) contain about the same amount of glucose and fructose. In fact, one commonly used version of the ingredient known as HFCS-42 actually contains less fructose (42 percent) than table sugar, which has 50 percent fructose…

One unconfused person is Lois Rain, who is emphatic about her feelings:

… [T]he Corn Refiners Association (CRA) has scrambled to use media and medical expert opinion (mis-quoted) to convince Americans that High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) is natural, the same as cane sugar, and fine in moderation… The corn industry must now question the health claims in order to stir up confusion, a deviant technique to murk up and deflect the truth. They attempt to support their claims by misquoting medical professionals who are actually fighting against HFCS and don’t want their patients to consume it!

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “A New Name for High-Fructose Corn Syrup,” The New York Times, 09/14/10
Source: “High Fructose Corn Syrup: A Sweet Story Gone Sour,” Snack Food & Wholesale Bakery, 11/12/10
Source: “5 Reasons High Fructose Corn Syrup Will Kill You,”, 05/26/11
Image by Michael (aka Moik).

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About Dr. Robert A. Pretlow

Dr. Robert A. Pretlow is a pediatrician and childhood obesity specialist. He has been researching and spreading awareness on the childhood obesity epidemic in the US for more than a decade.
You can contact Dr. Pretlow at:


Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the American Society of Animal Science 2020 Conference
What’s Causing Obesity in Companion Animals and What Can We Do About It

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the World Obesity Federation 2019 Conference:
Food/Eating Addiction and the Displacement Mechanism

Dr. Pretlow’s Multi-Center Clinical Trial Kick-off Speech 2018:
Obesity: Tackling the Root Cause

Dr. Pretlow’s 2017 Workshop on
Treatment of Obesity Using the Addiction Model

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation for
TEC and UNC 2016

Dr. Pretlow’s invited presentation at the 2015 Obesity Summit in London, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s invited keynote at the 2014 European Childhood Obesity Group Congress in Salzburg, Austria.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2013 European Congress on Obesity in Liverpool, UK.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2011 International Conference on Childhood Obesity in Lisbon, Portugal.

Dr. Pretlow’s presentation at the 2010 Uniting Against Childhood Obesity Conference in Houston, TX.

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