High-Fructose Sugar May Lead To Overeating: Are Sugar Substitutes Causing The Obesity Epidemic?

By Amir Khan on January 2, 2013 12:27 PM EST

Obesity
Is high-fructose corn syrup driving the obesity epidemic? (Photo: Reuters / Phil Noble)

High-fructose corn syrup is the subject of intense debate, with both proponents and detractors spouting mountains of facts in both directions. But a new study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, is giving more ammo to the anti-high-fructose corn syrup movement by showing that the sweetener contributes to overeating, and may be to blame for the obesity epidemic sweeping the nation.

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High-fructose corn syrup is a liquid six times sweeter than cane sugar and much cheaper as well. It is a common additive to processed foods and soft drinks. The average American eats more than 40 pounds of HFCS every year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Researchers conducted brain scans on 20 healthy people before and after they had a drink containing either sugar or high-fructose syrup, and found that HFCS suppressed the feeling of "fullness" that typically comes with eating or drinking.

"[Sugar] turns off or suppresses the activity of areas of the brain that are critical for reward and desire for food,"one researcher said, according to Yahoo! News. "We don't see those changes [with high-fructose corn syrup. As a result, the desire to eat continues - it isn't turned off."

With high-fructose corn syrup becoming so ubiquitous in food and drink, this suppression could lead to weight gain, and could also be a driver of the obesity epidemic that is sweeping the nation.

More than 35 percent of adults in the U.S. older than 20 are obese. In 1985, no state had an obesity rate higher than 14 percent. By 2010, no state had an obesity rate lower than 20 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

An obese person's annual medical cost is $2,700 higher, in 2005 dollars, than a non-obese person, according to a recent study. In 2010 dollars, the last year data is available, that is equivalent to almost $3,000.

"We still have to learn about obesity, including how best to measure it," Flegal's boss, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden, said, according to Yahoo! News. "However, it's clear that being obese is not healthy - it increases the risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and many other health problems. Small, sustainable increases in physical activity and improvements in nutrition can lead to significant health improvements."

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