High school kids who drink more than 5 cans of soft drinks per week are 15% more likely than their non-soda’d counterparts to act violently, according to a new study from Harvard School of Public Health.
Researchers surveyed 1,878 inner-city Boston public school kids, and found an unequivocal correlation between self-reported soft-drinking and aggression. Among those who drank 14 cans/week—that’s roughly one third of the kids—58% had histories of violence toward peers, and an alarming 43% carried guns or knives. For those who drank 1 or less, the numbers were 35% and 23%—still disturbingly high, when you think about it.
Investigator David Hemenway says the correlation between soft drinks and violence was “dose dependent,” and similar in magnitude to correlations between teen alcohol use and violence. The data were published earlier this week in the online edition of the British journal, Injury Prevention.
Is it the sugar (corn syrup) or the caffeine? Dr. Hemenway said nobody really knows. He stressed that correlation does not prove causation, though it does raise suspicion.
It also raises the specter of the “Twinkie Defense”—a weird judicial episode in which a killer pleaded—somewhat successfully–that his murderous behavior was triggered by junk food. HPC wonders whether it’ll also give the gun lobby some new ammo: “Guns don’t kill people, Soft Drinks do!”
Whether or not soda makes kids go ballistic, it’ll probably help make ’em fat and sick. Princeton researchers showed that high-fructose corn syrup—the stuff Corn Refiners Association now wants us to call “corn sugar”—is significantly more metabolically detrimental than plain white sugar.
Rats that free-fed on HFCS—a top ingredient in most non-diet sodas and many junk foods—showed a 48% greater weight gain, higher abdominal fat deposition and higher triglycerides than rats free-fed plain sugar water. These effects were independent of overall caloric intake.
“Some people have claimed that HFCS is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true,” says neuroscientist Dr. Bart Hoebel, who specializes in appetite, weight and sugar addiction.
“When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese — every single one. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this.” The study was published in the journal, Pharmacology, Biochemistry & Behavior.
Cane vs. Corn
Predictably, the Corn Refiners Association decried the Hoebel study, claiming “gross errors” in the methodology. In a press release, CRA claims the Princeton investigators “failed to put into perspective the excessive amount (of HFCS) consumed by the rats,” amounts they estimate would translate to roughly 3,000 kcal per day in human terms.
The issue has huge economic implications: HFCS is an ingredient in an estimated 40% of all prepared foods and beverages consumed in the US, and the average American consumes nearly 38 pounds of the stuff every year, according to the USDA’s Economic Research Service. HFCS production requires millions of tons of domestically grown corn, which has bee federally subsidized to the tune of $40 billion since the mid 1990s.
The sweetener has been implicated as a major contributor to the diabetes and obesity epidemics by numerous studies. While none of these studies is definitive, the repeated bad press prompted corn refiners to seek a new image, hence the effort to rename HFCS as “corn sugar.”
Earlier in October, Federal District Judge Consuelo Marshall (Central California) ruled in support of a lawsuit brought by US cane sugar farmers against the corn refiners. The suit contends that CRA’s $50 million “Sweet Surprise” ad campaign, with it’s claim of equivalence between HFCS and plain sugar, constitutes false advertising.
An FDA ruling on whether food manufacturers can legally call HFCS “corn sugar” is pending.