Today the New York Times devoted an entire article to a question that has always stumped us: Why are public health scares so much easier to spread than they are to shake? Jane Brody tracked down some experts in panic research for answers, and they weighed in on red meat, bird flu, and other familiar food phobias. (One of the most misunderstood products in our food supply was conspicuously missing from today’s list of needless anxieties: high fructose corn syrup.)
Brody reports that “many of the risks we take or avoid are based on false perceptions, rather than solid information.” The demonization of corn sugar is a classic case. Study after study has shown that high fructose corn syrup is virtually identical to ordinary table sugar from a nutritional and even a “natural” standpoint. The only difference, to some consumers, is flavor – which, of course, is in the taste buds of the beholder.
As the market grows for “retro” drinks made with sweeteners that aren’t any healthier or more natural than corn sugar, it’s difficult to see why “the devil’s candy” didn’t make the cut. After all, there’s plenty of sweetener propaganda there to go around.
As with other health panics, buying into sweetener scare campaigns costs more time and anxiety than most of us have to spend. As Financial Times economist and Panicology co-author Simon Briscoe points out:
“We’d be a lot happier if we insisted that people prove their case before making dire pronouncements. We shouldn’t be wasting time worrying about a lot of stupid things.”