The correlation between income and both obesity and type 2 diabetes in the US only became significant from 1990 onwards, researchers say.
US and UK scientists from Tennessee and London say the timing of this association coincides with increased exposure to sugary foods and drinks.
Because people’s diets from previous decades, pre-1990, contained little sugar compared to today, overall sugar consumption has spiked from decade to decade.
“The timing is suggestive, with the generations of young Americans consuming high fructose corn syrup in foodstuffs predicting a similar increase in obesity as they became adults,” said lead author Alexander Bentley of the University of Tennessee in the US.
Sugary food consumption is one of the many risk factors for obesity and type 2 diabetes, particularly as improved manufacturing processes mean these foods can be marketed far cheaper. But Bentley and colleagues say the risk of poorer Americans becoming obese only became significant in 1990.
“The data point to a developing trend that was not present in 1990. This negative correlation has evolved steadily over recent decades. By 2015 the situation was such that members of lower income households had a much greater chance of suffering from obesity and diabetes.”
By the year 2000, each person in the US consumed an average of 27kg per year of high fructose corn syrup – used in food stuffs since 1970 – which is around half of their annual total sugar intake.
The average US household spent 7% on corn syrup in 2016, while low income households spent 9%.
The researchers had analysed data on obesity levels, physical activity, income and diabetes incidence from around 3,000 counties. This information also revealed a person’s access to supermarkets and large grocery stores where they could buy nutritious food.
In the UK and other countries worldwide there are campaigns to restrict sugar consumption in a bid to tackle obesity and type 2 diabetes rates. The government introduced a sugar tax earlier this year, and Diabetes Digital Media’s Low Carb Program is helping people adapt their lifestyle to eat a healthy, real-food diet, with information on how to do this on a budget.
The study findings appear in the journal Palgrave Communications, which is published by Springer Nature.

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