On Sunday, a New York Times exposé highlighted an important trend in high fructose corn syrup: The science sits quietly on one side, while activists loudly attract attention to their cause on the other. After noting that even food industry critics like Michael Jacobson and nutritionists like Marion Nestle are of the belief that high fructose corn syrup is nutritionally no different than sugar, the Times then interviews Ivan Royster, who runs the Facebook group “THE BAN OF HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP IN THE U.S.”
His is an ambitious goal: to force the reformulation of hundreds or thousands of everyday foods. And his following is more than 120,000 Facebook fans strong. But contradicted by professionals opposed to the belief that high fructose corn syrup is harmful, does the Facebook group have much science of its own? Nope. The Times notes this about the online fear monger: “[H]e says that the syrup is harmful in ways that science simply hasn’t yet figured out because not enough of the right studies have been done.”
This is essentially a faith-based approach to health policy. While suggesting that the proof for their beliefs is minimal (or nonexistent), activists instead basethem on … well, faith. Unscientific theorizing never worked before with high fructose corn syrup, so we shouldn’t expect a different result today—especially from a group led by a guy who calls high fructose corn syrup “poison” and genetically engineered food crops “terrorism.”
And if this online health crusader really believes HFCS is somehow fueling obesity, we’re assuming he avoids it in the foods he eats. So why does he look like he belongs on The Biggest Loser instead of American Gladiators?
Our point—and we do have one—is that the cause of obesity can’t be whittled down to just one food or ingredient. Calories are calories, whether they come from bread, milk, or soft drinks. If obesity zealots would just admit that much, it would help tone down the rhetoric. But it would also undermine their narrow, faith-based crusades.