A new study has found a link between high levels of high fructose corn syrup in a country’s food supply and rising levels of Type 2 diabetes.

The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Southern California and University of Oxford and published in the journal Global Public Health, found countries that use high fructose corn syrup in their food supply had a 20 per cent higher level of diabetes than countries that did not. It also claims these high levels are independent of total sugar intake and obesity levels.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a type of low cost sweetener derived from corn and used particularly in processed and store-bought foods. It is present in a variety of products including sliced bread, yogurts and even ketchup.

The study analyzed the HFCS levels in 42 countries, of which Canada ranked fourth highest for consumption. Canadians consume approximately nine kilograms per person, per year.

The United States ranked the highest for consumption of HFCS per capita, with the average person consuming 25 kg in a year. By the late 1990s, HFCS was a predominant sweetener in soft drinks sold in the U.S. and linked to more than 40 per cent of all caloric sweeteners.

“HFCS appears to pose a serious public health problem on a global scale,” principal study author Michael I. Goran said in a statement. “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.”

The study suggests that food products with HCFS have higher amounts of fructose. While fructose is found in ordinary sugar, HFCS products contain higher levels to make food sweeter, and also to allow for processed foods to both last longer and look better.

According to the statement, countries with higher use of HFCS had an average prevalence of Type 2 diabetes of eight per cent, compared to 6.7 per cent in countries not using HFCS.

Countries with lower consumption rates per year included Australia, China, Denmark and France, which averaged less than 0.5 kilograms per capita.

According to Health Canada, Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes. While it is typically linked to obesity, other risk factors include age, high blood pressure, or a family history of diabetes. It is estimated that the number of Canadians living with diabetes will reach 3.7 million by 2018-19.

“What this study does is that it adds to a growing body of evidence to support the link,” Goran told CTV News. Goran said it is likely that fructose quickly converts to fat. He added: “I personally avoid foods and beverages made with HFCS and I suggest consumers consider doing the same.”

But the Corn Refiners Association slams the study, calling it “misleading” and “flawed.” According to  a statement posted to the CRA’s website, the study “uses a severely flawed statistical methodology and ignores well established medical facts to ‘suggest’ a unique link between high fructose corn syrup and Type 2 diabetes.”

The statement says that both table sugar and high fructose corn syrup are nutritionally and metabolically equivalent.

“Just because an ingredient is available in a nation’s diet does not mean it is uniquely the cause of a disease,” president Audrae Erickson said in the statement.

Canadian researcher John Sievenpiper at St. Michael’s Hospital backs the industry’s case.

“When you isolate the effects of fructose you don’t see that it behaves differently than other forms of calories,” he said.

“The reality is that people are over consuming in general, it’s not just HFCS in foods,” said Sievenpiper.

With a report from CTV medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip