A sugary syrup used in food manufacture could partly account for rising rates of type-2 diabetes, say scientists.
Countries that use large amounts of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) have higher rates of the disease than those that consume little, a study has shown.
Among 42 countries studied, diabetes prevalence in the two groups was 8% and 6.7% respectively, a difference of 20%.
Professor Stanley Ulijaszek, from Oxford University, who co-led the study, said: "This research suggests that HFCS can increase the risk of type-2 diabetes, which is one of the most common causes of death in the world today."
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HFCS has a greater proportion of fructose sugar than sucrose, which contains an equal amount of glucose.
The syrup is widely used in processed foods because it acts as a sweetener and improves appearance, providing a consistent browning after oven heating.
Of the countries studied, the US had far and away the greatest consumption per head of HFCS, amounting to 25 kilograms per year.
Hungary, Canada, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Belgium, Argentina, Korea, Japan and Mexico were also high consumers. Germany, Poland, Greece, Portugal, Egypt, Finland and Serbia were among the countries consuming the least.
UK consumption was very low at less than 0.5 kilograms per person per year, placing it alongside Australia, China, Denmark, France, India, Ireland, Italy, Sweden and Uruguay.
The findings are reported in the journal Global Public Health.
Co-author Professor Michael Goran, from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in the US, said: "HFCS appears to pose a serious public health problem on a global scale.
"The study adds to a growing body of scientific literature that indicates HFCS consumption may result in negative health consequences distinct from and more deleterious than natural sugar."
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