Consumers, beware: what the tobacco industry and the sugar industry have in common

Most Americans today are aware of the dangers of smoking. In fact, you must be living under a rock if you haven’t noticed the no-smoking notices that are prolific at restaurants, airports, and sports venues. All of this invited smokers to openly indulge their habit to the detriment of non-smokers nearby.

But this move to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking, change public opinion, and create laws to protect non-smokers in public has been slow, in part because of the tobacco industry’s willingness to hide studies and health-related information to consumers. Has the public been fooled again by the big industry about the health concerns associated with added sugar in diets? A dentist thinks so, and she has been diligent in her fact finding.

What Cristin Kearns, DDS, Learned In A Continuing Education Program

So what if something you hear from a speaker during a CE class doesn’t match science as you know it? If you are Cristin Kearns, DDS, you start looking for the facts. Several years ago, she participated in a CE diabetes program. She was surprised to see sweet tea promoted as a healthy drink for this patient population. She questioned the speaker, but she did not stop there. She began to research the impact of sugar on overall health.

What she discovered sounded oddly familiar – a large industry influencing public opinion and even science to distract from potential health issues so that profits flourish. The tobacco industry knew about the health dangers of smoking long before the general public and has done a good job of covering them up. Dr Kearns learned that the sugar industry had reason to be concerned about overconsumption of sugar and heart health from laboratory studies as early as the 1960s, but those studies were never completed.1

Instead, the Sugar Association hired researchers from Harvard University to research and publish data implicating dietary fat and cholesterol, not sugar, as the culprits of cardiovascular disease. Once the results are published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in 1967 and went viral, so to speak, the food and beverage industry became obsessed with anything low in fat and cholesterol.1 Consumers loved it. People could still eat delicious sweets as long as they avoided dangerous saturated fats. It still influences many food choices of consumers today.

Runoff effect

Following the NEJM A publication implicating fat as the culprit in cardiovascular disease, doctors around the world have started to refer their at-risk patients to low-fat, high-carbohydrate diets to “protect their hearts.” As a result, waist circumference, fatty liver disease, and the incidence of type II diabetes have followed a staggering trajectory since then.

Today, two-thirds of the American population (including many children) are overweight or obese.2 Eighty percent to 90% of obese people have fatty liver disease, which can lead to fibrosis and liver failure.3 One hundred million people in the United States have diabetes or prediabetes, which increases the risk of cardiovascular disease.4 Ninety-one percent of adults aged 20 to 64 have had tooth decay.5

As for the influence of low-fat diets on improving heart health, cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death in the United States, and stroke remains the leading cause of disability.6 While each of these conditions is more complicated than the overconsumption of refined sugar in our diets alone, one has to wonder how healthy our people would be today if the Sugar Association had been outspoken in following the science in them. 1960s. They could have done it instead of paying researchers to publish results that made it easy for the food industry to throw sugar into everything from bread and spaghetti sauce to energy drinks and yogurt.

The American Heart Association speaks out

In 2009, the American Heart Association became aware of the health concerns associated with overconsumption of sugar and issued a statement urging Americans to reduce their sugar intake from 100 grams of added sugar per day to 24 grams for women and 36 grams for Unfortunately, this information has not captured the attention of most physicians, the media, or consumers. Most Americans have no idea how much sugar they eat daily or what the AHA recommends.

Today, being health conscious for some Americans includes cutting back or avoiding sugary foods and drinks. But just like those who have suffered while indulging in tobacco, much of the damage has already been done due to overconsumption of sugar. It increases triglyceride levels, increases blood pressure, and helps with weight gain and visceral fat

It’s time to act

What can you do? Start with yourself. Eat and drink according to AHA guidelines, and teach your patients to do the same. But it won’t be easy. Tobacco is addictive, and there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that sugar is addictive. Some sciences connect the dots of a similar addictive effect that sugar has on the brain.8 So the sooner you and your patients live a virtually sugar-free lifestyle, except perhaps for those special occasions, the better off your future will be. healthy. Thank you Dr Cristin Kearns for not taking what you heard in a continuing education course at face value. You have discovered a sleeping giant. Now Americans must tame this giant.

Author’s Note: Cristin Kearns, DDS, is a professor at the University of California, San Francisco. Learn more at

The references

1. The unhealthy secrets of Kavanaugh A. Sugar. How Industry Forces Manipulated Science to Minimize Damage. SugarScienceBlog. Posted December 26, 2018. Accessed April 8, 2019.

2. Obesity and overweight. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Published 2017. Accessed April 8, 2019.

3. Andronescu CI, Purcarea MR, Babes PA. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: epidemiology, pathogenesis and therapeutic interventions. Journal of Medicine and Life. 2018; 11: 20-23.

4. New CDC Report: Over 100 Million People Have Diabetes or Prediabetes – Infographic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated July 18, 2017. Accessed April 8, 2019.

5. Dye BA, Thornton-Evans G, Li X, Iafolla TJ. Tooth Decay and Tooth Loss in Adults in the United States 2011-2012. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Published May 2015. Accessed April 8, 2019.

6. Facts about heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Updated November 28, 2017. Accessed April 8, 2019.

7. Johnson RK, Appel LJ, Brands M, et al. Intake of dietary sugars and cardiovascular health. A scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2009; 120: 1011-1020.

8. Olszewski PK, Wood EL, Klockars A, Levin AS. Excessive sugar consumption: an insatiable quest for reward. Current nutritional reports 2019. 1007 / s13668-019-0770-5. [Epub ahead of print.]

Karen Davis, BSDH, RDH, is the founder of Cutting Edge Concepts, an international continuing education company, and practices dental hygiene in Dallas, Texas. She is an independent consultant to Philips Corp., Periosciences and Hu-Friedy / EMS. She can be reached at [email protected]

Rachel J. Bradford