My cover story from our April 18 issue, “Fat of the Land,” was on our website for less than 36 hours before I received a letter from the president of the Corn Refiners Association that sought to address what that group feels are widely held misconceptions about high-fructose corn syrup. The letter was a fairly boilerplate one, and mainly took issue with the notion that HFCS is cheap. on that, I will concede that there is some journalism out there pointing out that corn might not be as heaviliy subsidized in this country as we think. That said, there are some pretty compelling documentaries out there (Food, Inc. and King Corn among them) that say just the opposite.
This all reminded me a bit of the letter I received from the Catholic League some time back, only this has been much friendlier so far, and smacks of an automated PR response to any reference in the media deemed negative toward the refined corn industry. I can appreciate that. But the fact remains that concurrently with the addition of massive amounts of high-fructose corn syrup into our food industry, our national obesity rate began to climb dramatically.
While I like to post our stories to National Underwriter’s Facebook page, I also link them to my personal page, and the conversation that followed was a really good one. I won’t reproduce the entire thing for you, but I will offer some commentary from a few friends and colleagues of mine who has some interesting things to say about the role of HFCS and obesity. I’ve scrubbed the last names of everybody in this out of privacy concerns, but kept one friend’s name in totality because he specifically granted me permission to use his name. Everybody else, I have not heard back from, so better safe than sorry.
Bill Coffin This story has been online for maybe 36 hours and I’ve already got a letter from the president of the Corn Refiners Association. Guess I hit a nerve.
Ryan Nice article Bill… Not really surprised about the letter since the side note was well placed :)
Felicia Great read.
Beth Cry me a river corn refineries! Love their commercials too…HFCS is just like sugar! Lol! Get ‘em Bill!
Jorel Levenson Thanks Bill, great job.
Bill Coffin Thanks, guys! I’m looking forward to following this up with how much, or how little insurers are doing to actually promote better health (and lower costs) among their policyholders. I mean, I’ve had health insurance for my whole working lif…e. Not once has my insurer reached out to me with any helpful resources for weight management or general wellness. You’d think with an ROI of 3:1 or higher on wellness spending, more companies would break the bank on it. But, no. Why is that?
Shawn Nice article, I like to indulge now and then but have a made a decision to make more meals from scratch and to include much more fresh vegetables in my diet. A better diet can be done just so many don’t want to even try.
Dale Corn syrup is the devil… all sugar is really (why else was it once worth its weight in gold), but thanks for the article showcasing the corn syrup issues! As someone who as taken out all corn syrup from his diet (and lost 100lbs, going down to a size 36 pants in just a year from size 50) this sort of information is very important to get out to the rest of the population.
Bill Coffin Whoa, Dale, that is some AWESOME work you did, man. Congratulations! As for corn syrup…it’s just bad for you, and unless you make a point of avoiding it, you end up ingesting enormous amounts of it. It’s like an incremental calorie tax levied several times a day.
Jorel Last place I worked they made more of an effort to make people aware of programs that benefited people making healthy decisions. We don’t do corn syrup either, but my wife and I have always been healthy eaters and underweight.
You are completely correct Bill, its extremely hard to find stuff without corn syrup… its in certain brands of nuts and in nearly all jerky even, things that you would think be free from sugar. Its in everything that is prepackaged and pr…ocessed. I have to even be careful buying meat from WalMart because it often contains a 18-32% solution that will contain sweeteners like corn syrup. I eat meat from my local butcher, as well as fresh fruit and veggies. That is all that i consume anymore and I feel awesome.
Julie Ann and over 90% of corn is GMO so the jeopardy is compounded…exponentially
Julie Ann ?”Put another way, obesity-related costs are a self-imposed tax upon the American people that is equal to the gross domestic product of Sweden.” BRILLIANT. so glad i saw this post :-)
Jason Honestly I’m surprised Brazil isn’t higher on the list. I went to a Brazilian cafe last year, which we now call “The Temple of Meat,” and figured it had to be Americanized. I later asked a Brazilian friend of mine about it and she remarked, “no, that’s pretty much exactly how we eat in Brazil.” And she’s FAR from overweight. Must be good genes.
Ryan My guess would be that the meat they are eating in Brazil isnt dosed up with hormones & antibiotics the way our meat is… The right meat isn’t nearly as unhealthy as people thing…
Bill Coffin Brazil’s got its own obesity problem. http://nyti.ms/gFUIMs
Bill Coffin And…http://bit.ly/fPwCV7
Jason Ok. That’s more along the lines of what I’d expect. I was just surprised not to see them in the top tier with the others you listed.
Bill Coffin For as corpulent as Brazil’s getting it’s still noticeably lower than the U.S. and it can’t hold a candle to the fattest Gulf States. The obesity rate for women in Bahrain is something like 50%. OBESITY. I guess they like big butts and they cannot lie.
Laura It’s simply a matter of eating too much: too much high fructose corn syrup (especially when added to packaged and processed food unbeknownst to its consumers) , too much sugar, too much fat, but really, just too much food, most of it devoid… of real nutritional content. Throw in a disturbingly sedentary society and, presto, there’s your overweight health crisis.
The thing is, though, I have yet to read any study that convinces me that high fructose corn syrup (not that I want to drink down a gallon of the stuff) is any more evil than the artificial sweeteners that seem to largely escape general public scrutiny. In fact, I am skeptical of its specific effect on our health, beyond the insidious way its been tucked into processed foods. If avoiding it makes people avoid processed foods and eat more whole foods, then that will impact health for the better. But I see the corporate trend to switch HF corn syrup with plain old white sugar just as likely to lead down the path of obesity as any plan before.
Kristina It’s all about the corn subsidies. Get rid of subsidies and corn syrup will go away and people will use real sugar again.
Shannon sigh….HFCS and Sucrose have almost the same Glucose/Fructose profile- meaning the body would metabolize them in the same way. The only difference is the corn subsidy makes HFCS cheaper enabling people to eat more…its sad that the mere mention of HFCS distracts from the main point – that insurance should promote a healthy lifestyle through anti-obesity incentives. It doesn’t matter if people are downing bottles of corn syrup or scrapple the point is people eat too damn much.
Theresa Excellent piece, Bill. Made me think also of desserts at chain restaurants, too – like the 1000+ calorie ‘pieces’ of cheesecake at The Cheesecake Factory.
James I tell you, I’d be fine if restaurant chains did commercials saying, “food prices are going up, and we don’t want to impact your wallet, so we’ve decided to cut the portions we serve and actually cut our prices. This way you can still go out and get a delicious meal at a reasonable bargain, we stay in business, and we stop the mindless drive towards bigger is better.” I want smaller portions, not bigger prices. Would it work?
Kevin Yeah, once i started trying to eat better years ago, it blew my mind to see how much stuff has HFCS in it…
Bill Coffin @Laura: I agree with you; I don’t think that HFCS is itself intrinsically awful, it’s just a sweetener. But the stuff is crazy cheap to make, thanks in part to a substantial corn subsidy, and its chemistry makes it easily integrated into food products that ordinarily would not be sweetened. The result is a higher baseline in calories in all kinds of processed foods.
Scott Great article. Excellent information, well written, and much needed. I’d take pissing off the corn growers as a compliment.
Karl U. Bucus