UK HealthCare

Sugary Drinks Culpable in Diabetes, Heart Woes

LEXINGTON, Ky. (June 19, 2012) - The following column appeared in the Lexington Herald-Leader on Sunday, June 17.

Sugary Drinks Culpable in Diabetes, Heart Woes

By Geza Bruckner

Each year, our nation gets fatter. Sixty-six percent of the current population is overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, Kentucky is among the states with the highest obesity rates. Obesity is closely associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease — the incidences of which are rising in both children and adults.

What is causing this obesity and diabetes epidemic?

The simple answer is that we are eating more calories than we are able to expend. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average adult Americans’ daily caloric intake was 2,234 calories in 1970. In 2003, that number rose to 2,757 calories per day, an increase of 523 calories per day.

Where are these excess calories coming from?

Since the 1960s, there has been a significant increase in total carbohydrates and, more specifically, in simple sugars and high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is made from cornstarch, which is treated to make glucose, and then made into a mixture of fructose and glucose. Table sugar is made from sugar beets or sugar cane and is extracted by pressing and chemical extraction.

Both sucrose and high fructose corn syrup show up in processed foods, particularly in soft drinks and fruit drinks. A 12-ounce can of soda contains 39 grams of high fructose corn syrup, which is 140 calories; a 20-ounce can is 240 calories. Our intake of regular sodas has increased fourfold since 1957, when we consumed about 100 of the 12-ounce cans per person per year. In 2004, this amount rose to more than 400 cans per person per year.

Why is fructose more detrimental than glucose?

Glucose, which makes up most starches, is absorbed and used by muscle cells for energy, and the excess stored as glycogen, a ready source of energy. Only a small amount of the total glucose consumed is converted into fat. Fructose isn’t used by the muscle; it is entirely absorbed by the liver where a much greater portion is converted into fat. The dietary recommendation regarding sugar and high fructose corn syrup makes sense — decrease your total caloric intake by eliminating regular sodas and fruit drinks from your diet.

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site,

Geza Bruckner is a professor and director of Clinical Nutrition and interim director of Human Health Sciences in the UK College of Health Science.