Why High Fructose Corn Syrup Is the One to Blame for Unhealthy American Diet

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According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there will be a higher amount of Americans that will die of diseases related to obesity than there will be Americans who will starve to death (CDC, 2019). This is a major issue. Processed foods have overtaken the supermarket shelves and are causing public health to spiral downwards. Obesity and diabetes are on the rise and with them come a series of other awful diseases such as heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease. The obesity epidemic has become a crisis for the American population. It has become an issue that can affect everyone from people over 40 to children as young as 10. The rise of the obesity epidemic is mainly due to how the food industry has manipulated our food to contain an extreme amount of high fructose corn syrup, fat, and salt. This and the lack of regulations on the food industry has led to the downfall of the health of the American population.

The concept of high fructose corn syrup was first introduced in 1957 but the process of refining corn into glucose and later, into fructose was not popularized until the late 1970s (Reshanov, 2012). During this time, trade restrictions started increasing the price of sugar, all while corn was cheaper and easier to access. The United States government started to subsidize farmland to grow more corn. The influx of corn made the price of the crop fall even lower than it already was. Which made it cheaper for food manufacturers to integrate corn-based ingredients into their products. Once the 1980’s hit, Coca-Cola was the first soft drink brand to use high fructose corn syrup into their product. Slowly, other soft drink companies followed their lead. By the time the mid-’80s rolled around, the majority of soft drink brands were using high fructose corn syrup in their products. In some form or another, corn is used in a plethora of industrial and food products. According to the Corn Refiners Association (CRA), special types of corn sweeteners are used in the production of value-added specialty biochemicals which includes: amino acids, organic acids, and antibiotics; due to their ability to stick ingredients together (CRA, 2019).

In the food industry, however, corn sweeteners are mainly used to enhance fruit and citrus flavors or for preserving soft and chewy textures of foods like granola bars and chocolate chip cookies. While in moderation there is no issue with high fructose corn syrup, but due to how much high fructose corn syrup the American population is exposed to, they are bound to feel the side effects of the sweetener. When compared to table sugar, high fructose corn syrup leads to more weight gain. In a 2010 experiment at Princeton University, a group of four researchers had two groups of rats drink sweetened water, one group of rats was fed water mixed with high fructose corn syrup and the other was fed water mixed with table sugar. During a period of six months, the rats’ weight gain, body fat, and triglyceride levels were monitored. The results were astounding and a bit terrifying. The rats fed the high fructose corn syrup diet gained 48% more weight than their table sugar counterparts (Parker, 2010). That is not the only alarming part of the study, Princeton graduate student Miriam Bocarsly stated “These rats aren’t just getting fat; they’re demonstrating characteristics of obesity…” she then went on to say “In humans, these same characteristics are known risk factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer, and diabetes” (Parker, 2010). The outcome of the study is eye-opening. It should be seen as a wakeup call to what people are putting into their bodies. Especially with the popularity of processed and fast foods. These types of foods are all produced by the big food companies whose only goal is to make money.

When creating some of our favorite snack foods, the big food corporations mix varying levels of salt, sugar, and fat to create an addicting experience. When these large companies want to create a new product, they hire food engineers to find out what combination of touch, feel, sip, taste, and smell is the most attractive to consumers. One way that researchers find this combination is they look for the product’s “bliss point”. According to Howard Moskowitz who has a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard, the level that consumers like the amount of salt, sugar, and fat in product the most is known as the product’s bliss point (Moss, 2013). Moskowitz first began to develop this process when the U.S. Army hired him to search for a way to get soldiers to keep consistently eating their rations when they are out in the field. Over time, soldiers would eventually get tired of eating the same food so they would throw their half-eaten meals into the trash.

Thus, not getting the right amount of calories. To figure out the root of this problem, Moskowitz started to ask the soldiers assorted questions about which foods they liked and which ones they were bored of. After asking the soldiers, they enjoyed foods that had plenty of flavor but those were often the foods the would get sick of the fastest. On the other hand, simple foods like bread they could eat forever and not feel like they were full. The phenomenon that they were describing is called “sensory-specific satiety.” Which happens when the brain gets overwhelmed by complex flavors which makes you feel full and eat less. This has become a staple for the food industry. Many of the most popular snacks and soft drinks such as Doritos and Coca-Cola, utilize this to their advantage to create formulas that have flavor but not an overpowering one that will trigger the brain to stop eating. Another scientific marvel for the food industry is the process of making Cheetos. What makes Cheetos so different than most other popular junk foods is the fact that they melt in your mouth. Cheetos trigger this effect called “vanishing caloric density.” Since Cheetos melt before you can swallow them, your brain thinks that there are no calories in them, leading you to eat until the bag is finished. There are more ways that the big food companies get consumers to keep eating their food, one of them is adding in copious amounts of salt, which exploits the consumers tastes buds and gets them hooked on their product. Robert I-San Lin, who was the chief scientist for Frito-Lay from 1974 to 1982 stated: “people get addicted to salt (Moss, 2013).” This fact led to more and more people eating salty snacks. Another contributor to the increase of snacking is that people started to become more likely to skip meals and resort to eating snacks.

The food industry picked up on this trend and began releasing new varieties of chips to accommodate people's eating habits. New flavors included Salt & Vinegar, Salt & Pepper, and Cheddar & Sour Cream. Frito-Lay did not stop there, they began acquiring new products and added more salt into them to get people hooked. One of the products that Frito-Lay acquired Stacy’s Pita Chips. Once Frito-Lay started producing the pita chips the amount of sodium increased. The chips soon contained enough sodium equal to one-fifth of an adult’s recommended amount for the entire day. They were a hit. However, there was one market that Frito-Lay was unable to infiltrate; schools. During Bill Clinton’s presidency, he teamed up with the American Heart Association to try and make school lunches more nutritious. Their main objective was to eliminate the amount of sugar, salt, and fat in cafeteria food. This posed an issue for Frito-Lay. To try and attempt to weasel their way into schools, Frito-Lay decided to change how they marketed the chips. They started to avoid using the term “fried” and switched the terminology to say that their chips are “toasted” which has a healthier connotation. Frito-Lay also decided to put their chips into smaller bags. Their strategy worked and the smaller sized “healthier” chips were a hit and landed their way into schools nation-wide.

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The food industry is not all bad, they are making some strides to try and alleviate the obesity problem. Big food corporations are changing the ways that they advertise to children. One of the ways that these companies will have to change is by adding healthier options to children’s menus in restaurants. Restaurants that are engaging in the new menu will be required to have at least one item that is must contain 600 calories or less, and meet other nutritional requirements. The group that will be in charge of changing the marketing standards is called the “Children's Food and Beverage Advertising Initiative.” The group includes companies such as Burger King, Campbell, Kraft Foods, PepsiCo, Kellogg, and McDonald’s (Nueman, 2011). The food industry referred to this change as momentous progress. While it is good that the food industry will be responsible for putting healthier food options on their menus; there is still the issue of keeping the extremely unhealthy options on the kid's menu.

On the other hand, even though there are initiatives to keep the children’s menu healthy at fast food places. There is still the matter of discussing what is on the regular menu at these restaurants. Fast-food chains are serving food that is filled with more than enough calories and are loaded with fat, sugar, and sodium. In 2010, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) unveiled its newest sandwich, the “double down” which contains two strips of bacon, two slices of melted cheese, KFC’s “Colonel Sauce” all between two filets of chicken, either fried or grilled. In total, this meal contains 540 calories and 32 grams of fat for the version with fried chicken and a total of 460 calories and 23 grams of fat for the version with grilled chicken (Kinsman, 2010). On the topic of over the top sandwiches from chain restaurants, “The Grand Slamwich” from Denny’s contains, scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, ham, American cheese, and maple spread served on potato bread and also comes with a side of hash browns (Denny’s.com).

According to the nutritional guide of all the items on the Denny’s menu, The Grand Slamwich has a grand total of 1320 calories which 770 of those calories come from fat, 85 grams of fat, 3320 milligrams of sodium, and 52 grams of protein (Denny’s Nutritional Guide). To put all of those numbers into something more understandable, the average 20-year-old, needs 2600 calories a day (DPHP, 2015). The American Heart Association states an ideal amount of sodium for the average person is no more than 1500 milligrams per day (AHA, 2018).

Just one Grand Slamwich is double the amount of calories that someone needs for the entire day. Denny’s also classifies the sandwich as a breakfast meal, so already people are starting the day with enough calories to last them until the next day. There are also enough milligrams of salt to satisfy you for the following day as well. Another point to mention is on the Denny’s menu the Grand Slamwich is referred to as a best seller. This is a prime example of how Americans are overweight and malnourished, they keep eating and eating but are not getting the proper nutrition that they need. Without proper nutrition, people do not feel full, so to try and get full their body keeps telling people that they need to eat. It also seems contradictory that big food corporations have to follow specific guidelines for children but there is no standard for the regular adult menu. There should be a stricter set of rules that these companies have to adhere to so everyone knows what they are eating. If not, it seems like these food companies are just waiting until the children are old enough to buy their own food and then fatten them up.

As Americans put on more weight, the more health problems come with that weight. One of the main health problems that come from being overweight is diabetes. Diabetes is defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) as being a chronic disease that occurs when the human body does not produce enough insulin or when the body can not properly use the insulin that it makes (WHO, 2018). Diabetes can also lead to serious health issues such as an increased chance of a heart attack or stroke, loss of blood flow to limbs that leads to amputation, kidney failure, and blindness. Diabetes is a disease which unfortunately is not going away, as of 2014, 8.5% of people who are 18 or older have diabetes; and as of 2016, diabetes was directly responsible for 1.6 million deaths (WHO, 2018). This is an issue that needs to be handled. The environment that someone is in plays a huge factor in their lifestyle which determines their health choices.

Fast food which is one of the proprietary contributors to the obesity epidemic is cheaper than buying organic food at the supermarket. One of the main reasons that unhealthier food is less expensive than organic is because the government subsidies farmers to continue to grow corn, soybeans, and harvest milk. These products are used in numerous processed factory-made foods. According to Barry Popkin, a professor of nutrition at the Gillings School of Public Health removing agricultural subsidies would impact people’s eating habits in a big way. For instance, if the subsidy on whole milk was removed and milk that is low-fat became cheaper, that would save people a lot of calories (Singer, 2010). The government should be doing more to help relieve the obesity and diabetes crisis.

The most effective way for the government to help the obesity crisis is by making sure that children are eating healthy. If children are healthy then they will teach their children to be healthy, which will create future generations of healthy people and reduce the amount of obesity in America. The main area in which children could be eating healthier is at school. Since the fall of 2012, the U.S. government has changed the contents of the meals they subsidize, these new school lunches will contain higher amounts of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and will restrict how much sodium and fat are in each meal (Moss, 2011). This is a good first step into helping the youth be healthier. While having the children eat healthy at school is a huge improvement for the obesity crisis, there is no use if the children are not eating properly at home. Schools both public and private should offer mandatory classes on nutrition. There is only so much that the federal government can do with trying to end the obesity epidemic.

Many local governments are trying to fight laws and regulations that would help stop the obesity issue. Members of local governments want to pre-emptively try to get laws that would make their states healthier banned. They try and hide these actions deep into other sections of other state departments. For example, In Ohio, a rule that would allow the state’s director of agriculture to be the only person who was able to regulate how much food marketing can use consumer incentives to get people to buy their food. This would also make the director of agriculture the one to prohibit restaurants from labeling their menu items to contain calorie counts. These rules were stowed away into a budget law which contained 5 thousand pages (Storm, 2011). This law essentially made Cleaveland’s a previous law that banned restaurants and food corporations from using trans fats that were industrially made into their products void. Both federal and state governments should be working together to put an end to the obesity epidemic.

Overall, there are many things to blame for the downfall of the American diet. Some of the factors include high fructose corn syrup, the amount of salt, sugar, and fat put into processed foods, federal and state governments, and the lack of information about nutrition and proper eating habits. While people can try and find a single factor to blame, the truth is that in some shape or another, all of these causes need the other. For instance, if the federal government did not subsidize corn, then there would not be an excess of high fructose corn syrup. With no high fructose corn syrup, then processed foods would not be as fattening as they are. These factors and more feed into a cycle of a poor diet. The only true way to end the obesity epidemic is if everyone made more conscious choices of what they are putting into their food or their body.

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