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Studies Done on High Fructose Corn Syrup & the Behavior of Children

May 16, 2011 | By Christine Reifeiss
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High fructose corn syrup, a sweet and stable food additive popular in sweetened beverages and processed foods, has been accused of causing diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome and mental disturbances. Despite public outcry about alleged health risks associated with high fructose corn syrup, scientific studies have largely failed to attribute any harm to the food additive or to behavioral effects in children.


Childhood obesity is known to affect self-esteem and school performance in some children. One of the main arguments against high fructose corn syrup is that its metabolism may lead to obesity --- leading some to wonder if high fructose corn syrup may be to blame for skyrocketing obesity rates in children. An 2008 paper in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" pointed out that excessive loads of pure fructose can cause metabolic dysfunction. However, researcher J.S. White pointed out that these studies do not reflect the way Americans eat high fructose corn syrup as part of a typical diet.

Similarly, a 2007 study in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" debunked the theory that high fructose corn syrup may lead to increased hunger and overeating. In fact, beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup had the same influence on hunger, fullness and calorie consumption when compared to sucrose-based sweeteners.

Digestive Pain

In a small study conducted at the Department of Pediatrics in Valhalla, New York, researchers set out to determine if fructose intolerance might be a common problem in children. The researchers recruited 32 children who complained of frequent unexplained abdominal pain. The children were divided into dosage groups and given differing levels of fructose. Among the most heavily-dosed children, eight out of 13 tested positive for fructose intolerance. Following the study, parents were asked to limit their children's fructose intake. All patients reported an improvement of abdominal pain after reducing fructose.

If fructose malabsorption is more common than previously suspected, as this study suggested, it is plausible that high fructose corn syrup could cause unexplained abdominal pain in children. In turn, chronic stomach pain could translate into mood and behavior changes in the classroom. A 2000 study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Gastroenterology noted that among people with fructose intolerance, the reduction of gas, bloating and cramping not only improved mood but minimized early signs of depression.

Sugar and Hyperactivity

Since table sugar and high fructose corn syrup have similar chemical structures, it is reasonable to assume that if sugar affects behavior and activity in children, high fructose corn syrup might have the same effect. However, in 1995, Vanderbilt University researchers reviewed results of numerous studies that had investigated the effects of sugar on children. Despite many parents' beliefs, the research showed that sugar did not change behavior in children.

Mercury Concerns

Mercury is known to cause neurological and cognitive processing problems. In one of the more alarming studies about high fructose corn syrup, researchers found 11 out of 20 samples of high fructose corn syrup products contained mercury. The authors concluded that high fructose corn syrup products may provide far more mercury to consumers than previously estimated. Mercury intake would increase among people who drink large quantities of sodas --- a group which includes teenagers. Further research is needed to determine the extent of this danger and its consequences.


Article reviewed by Chuck Goldberg Last updated on: May 16, 2011