A recent study from the Childhood Obesity Research Center at the Keck School of Medicine has found that the high fructose corn syrup used in sugary drinks such as sodas contains a higher level of fructose than previously thought.
Researchers analyzed the content of 23 different sodas and compared the results to standard samples to determine the levels of various types of sugar, such as fructose and sucrose. The results showed that many of these levels were higher than what the manufacturers reveal and that the total sugar content was generally about 20 percent higher for fructose than the advertised level.
Jaimie Davis, assistant professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine and co-author of the study, said the general assumption prior to the study was that the high fructose corn syrup used to sweeten beverages contained 55 percent fructose.
The fructose content of foods and beverages containing high fructose corn syrup is not disclosed by manufacturers, and Davis said this assumed 55 percent figure raised questions among researchers who studied fructose and its effects on the human body.
“For researchers, a lot of times, if we’re doing the analysis to look at the relationship between sugar-sweetened beverages and disease risk, we have to apply this generic 55 percent, because that’s what we’re told is in it,” Davis said. “We’ve always kind of expected that was not correct, and sure enough it’s actually about 65 percent.”
The difference between the assumed and actual fructose levels of high fructose corn syrup raised concerns from experts regarding health problems related to the consumption of excessive fructose, Davis said.
“It’s only a 10 percent difference, but it could actually dramatically affect the differences in causing disease in kids,” she said.
Increased consumption of sugars, especially fructose, has been linked to side effects including various metabolic disorders. For young children, the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes increases dramatically with a diet high in sugars.
“The latest reports suggest that if you were born in the year 2000, you have a 33 percent chance of developing Type 2 diabetes in your lifetime,” Davis said. “As obesity rises, we’re going to see a tremendous shift in diseases related to obesity and people are going to start living shorter life spans.”
“Unless we change the trend of obesity, and change it drastically, we are looking at major health issues affecting our population — our children and adults,” she added.
Although the results of the study revealed the high levels of sugar in drinks such as soda, Davis stressed that the study was indicative of a larger trend throughout the food and beverage industries and American consumers.
“We need to take a little more caution and really look at the types of sugar and amount of sugar that’s in our products,” Davis said. “Just because the label says one thing doesn’t necessarily mean we should take it at face value. As consumers, a lot of times we don’t know what’s going into our food and beverages.”
Even in stores where the ingredients are labeled on the sides of food products, Davis said, consumers still don’t truly know everything about their food because it is usually very highly refined.
“Anytime you look at anything you buy from the store, it has 50 ingredients in it,” Davis said. “We’re getting away from real food and drinking water. We’re consuming a lot of different highly refined and highly sweetened products.”
Davis said she hoped the results of the Center’s study will illustrate the extent of the problems faced by American consumers and inspire changes to reverse some of the developing unhealthy trends.
“It takes changes at every level — at the individual level, at the family level, the community level, and up to large industry and ultimately policy, and making changes at a much larger scale,” Davis said. “We need to think across systems to solve this — doing interventions with just kids, just parents or just the community is not going to do it.”