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Dubious PepsiCo-Funded Study Claims Body Handles HFCS No Differently Than Table Sugar

Posted Dec 18 2008 8:13pm

I'm just not convinced.

A new PepsiCo-funded-study claims that "the human body handles high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) no differently than table sugar," according to a PR Newswire release.

These results, the announcement asserts, contradict "assumptions that HFCS in beverages fails to signal fullness or suppress appetite," points out the relase and an article from FoodNavigator/Europe.

The study -- presented today at the Experimental Biology conference in San Francisco.-- was spearheaded by Dr. James Rippe, founder and director of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute and associate professor of medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine.

“Some have claimed that HFCS may be responsible for the increase in obesity rates over the past 30 years because it did not stimulate signals in the body that indicate appetite or fullness in the same way table sugar does. Until now, that had never been tested,” Dr. Rippe announced in a press release.

“Previous studies were conducted with pure fructose – not HFCS.”

Call me a skeptical journalist.

While I'm certainly impressed by Dr. Rippe's extensive credentials -- he's the author of 25 books and numerous medical papers, a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Medical School with post graduate training at Massachusetts General Hospital, and is currently founder and director of the Rippe Lifestyle Institute and associate professor of Medicine (Cardiology) at Tufts University School of Medicine -- I'm just not convinced of these study's results.

First off, this research was funded by a soda company so how are we to view these results with an unbiased attitude? If you told me this study was funded by a non-partisan group with no vested interest to represent, then I might pay very close attention to its results.

Secondly, if you investigate further, you'll find that although this study was a randomized, double-blind study, it tested the effects of drinking HFCS-sweetened drinks in only 30 normal-weight women.

What's more, their levels of blood sugar, insulin, and satiety hormones were tested for one day. Not weeks, months, years. 

Interestingly, the news about the funding source of this study just happens to be buried at the very end of the press release. The last line of the release -- before giving a bio of Dr. Rippe says -- "The study was funded by PepsiCo."

Thankfully, the release did acknowledge that "further research is necessary to see if this is also true for men, for obese populations and for blood measures over a longer time period."

At this point, I have lots of questions:

  • Why weren't overweight or obese people included in the study?
  • Why weren't their insulin and blood sugar levels tested for longer than one lone day?
  • Just how much soda did these people drink? (Sorry, but I can't find the study online.)
  • Did they eat food at the same time? (Because that can make a difference.)

What's quite curious about this study is that nowhere does it point out that any kind of sugar -- taken in large quantities, which is exactly what most soda drinkers do -- could lead to health problems, including obesity.

But then you wouldn't expect a soda-industry-funded study to do something like that, would you?

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