The Freakonomics Blog has an interesting scientific question:
“Will the High Price of Oil Make Americans Skinnier?
Not because higher gas prices will spur people to walk or ride bicycles instead of driving. No, I’m thinking it might work like this:
– Notwithstanding the recent drop, high oil prices have driven a demand for ethanol made from corn.
– Accordingly, the price of corn is rising fast, with July contracts at $4/bushel, about 60 percent higher than last summer.
– With corn so much more expensive, food manufacturers who use corn in so many forms in so many foods will look for substitutes. As the writer Michael Pollan puts it, “Corn is the keystone species of the industrial food system… If you are what you eat, and especially if you eat industrial food, as 99 percent of Americans do, what you are is corn.”
– Because corn was so cheap for so long, high-fructose corn syrup has become a common substitute for cane sugar. Pollan and others have argued that corn syrup is a great contributor to national obesity.
– Already, one boutique soda company has trumpeted its return to using cane sugar instead of corn syrup. “It’s better for you, it’s better-tasting and, overall, it’s better for the environment,” says the CEO of Jones Soda.
So, as higher oil prices continue to drive demand for corn-based ethanol, which drives the price of corn higher, which makes cheap corn syrup more expensive, which leads food manufacturers to seek out potentially less fattening sweeteners, will American get skinnier?”