Skepticism, it’s important.

A friend recently shared a link to a Big Think article entitled “There was no relationship between obesity and poverty until high fructose corn syrup!” https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/there-was-no-relationship-between-obesity-and-poverty-until-high-fructose-corn-syrup beware that link, it autoplays a video, and that annoys the hell out of me. Here is a different news release about the same report: https://www.news-medical.net/news/20181212/Link-between-poverty-and-obesity-is-only-about-30-years-old-study-shows.aspx

My first thought reading through the Big Think article is, “Wow, that’s a bold claim.” The authors of the original research called it a “correlation” and that’s a pretty interesting claim. Except that the obviously click bait title is a lie once you start looking into things.

Obesity and poverty are problems the world round, even in places where High Fructose Corn Syrup is not consumed (because it’s not subsidized the way it is in the U.S.).

India as a country consumes almost zero high fructose corn syrup per person per year, and is coming to grips with the same poverty and obesity problem among their urban youth: https://www.cnn.com/interactive/2017/10/health/i-on-india-childhood-obesity/ and https://www.indiatoday.in/mail-today/story/obesity-india-weighs-third-on-obesity-scale-196126-2014-06-08

From this source we can get a feel for how much HFCS is consumed in a few countries: https://www.upi.com/High-fructose-consumption-higher-diabetes/29781354333120/

Goran and Stanley Ulijaszek of the University of Oxford said of the 42 countries studied, the United States had the highest per-capita consumption of high-fructose corn syrup at a rate of 55 pounds per year. The second highest was Hungary, with an annual rate of 47 pounds per capita. Canada, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Belgium, Argentina, South Korea, Japan and Mexico are also relatively high high-fructose corn syrup consumers.

However, Germany, Poland, Greece, Portugal, Egypt, Finland and Serbia were among the lowest high-fructose corn syrup consumers.

Countries with per-capita consumption of less than 1 pound per year included: Australia, China, Denmark, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, the United Kingdom and Uruguay.

What? China and India? They don’t consume hardly any HFCS at all! If HFCS is the cause of obesity, then both China and India with their meager consumption should be spared the ravages of obesity, right?

Yeah, China has the most fat kids in the world and almost as many fat adults as the US: https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2098042/china-has-largest-number-obese-children-world-says-study

China has the world’s biggest population of obese children and is second only to the United States in the number of obese adults, a global study has found.

Wow.

But what about Japan, it’s up there on the list of HFCS consuming nations, so surely it must have a bunch of fat people, right? Well no, Japan, home of Sumo wrestling, leads the industrialized world in lowest percentage of obese adults, a paltry 3.5%. How do they do this? Well by passing laws that fine companies and local governments that fail to keep their people thin, aka the “Metabo Law.”

So what happened in the United States in the 1990s that created a correlation between poverty and obesity? The various nations that consume, or don’t consume, large amounts of HFCS indicate that urbanization, industrialization, and globalization are the common factors.

Why do I come to that conclusion? Because Japan also had rising rates of obesity until it took advantage of its homogeneous population, big government power, and used a combination of social and financial pressure to ensure Japanese people stayed thin. That’s not really an option for the United States where such a move would be seen as racist against black people.

And, by the way, the UK, with it’s measly less than one pound per year consumption, is also a nation of fat people, and the problem is getting worse for them too. https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/nov/10/uk-most-obese-country-in-western-europe-oecd-report-finds

But you know what else? I’ll add that thirty years ago something far more significant than globalisation, industrialization, and urbanization happened. It was the beginning of the broad adoption of the internet. Some of use still remember using a 5 MHz Intel 286 PC with a 9.6 kbs modem at the beginning of the 90s, and rocking Pentiums and Athlons pushing a whole gigahertz of speed by the time the year 2000 rolled around. Yes, the rapid adoption of all sorts of network connected technology and the cheap processors and RAM to power them is also correlated to the rise in obesity.

You shouldn’t take this article as a defense of high fructose corn syrup. It’s unnecessary sugar and pretty much everyone in the developed world should try to follow the Japanese government approved daily intake restriction of just 20 grams of sugar (that’s less than a single can of regular Coke). And we should all walk more, and get more exercise other than just walking from place to place.

But be skeptical, scientists find a lot of interesting correlations, but most of them don’t turn out into anything serious. Even that internet correlation I mentioned above is just that. The internet doesn’t make you fat, only eating to much and exercising too little does that.

 

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