New research papers dating back to the sugar industry’s playbook

It may not shock you to know that the sugar industry does not have our best interests in mind. But would you be alarmed to find out that they have consciously manipulated science in order to increase sugar intake? And that they did so in the face of scientific evidence that sugar consumption was associated with chronic disease?

Next year will mark 50 years since the sugar industry initiated and funded a review of the literature absolving sugar of its association with chronic heart disease, without revealing the industry’s role in the study.

What we now know as the Sugar Association began as the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) in 1943. Researchers Cristin Kearns, Laura Schmidt, and Stanton Glantz at the University of California at San Francisco have combed through hundreds of SRF documents and found evidence that the sugar industry had manipulated science to exonerate sugar as the dominant cause of heart disease, an action that changed the direction of scientific research for decades.

One particularly shocking quote they found was from President Henry Hass’s 1954 speech to the American Society of Sugar Beet Technologists, in which he said, “If the carbohydrate industries were to recoup that 20 percent of the diet’s calories.” (the difference between the 40 percent fat and the 20 percent it should have) and if sugar maintained its current share of the carbohydrate market, this change would mean an increase in per capita sugar consumption by more one-third with a huge improvement in overall health. “The sugar industry was interested in increasing sugar consumption by funding the science that would make Americans cut calories from saturated fat and hopefully replace it by sugar.

UCSF analysis reveals that SRF used the following tactics that the Union of Concerned Scientists previously identified in Sugar added, science removed in order to undermine public health policy on sugar. Our work shows that the successor to the SRF, the Sugar Association, and its counterpart in the corn syrup industry, the Corn Refiners Association, have taken over the SRF’s indications:

Attack science

Just as the Corn Refiners Association planned to ‘bury the data’ when it didn’t fit, when the sugar industry learned that researchers like John Yudkin of Queen Elizabeth College were questioning the maxim that the calories in sugar were higher. desirable as calories from fat, the vice of the SRF President and Chief Research Officer called on the organization in 1964 to “embark on a major program” to counter the science emanating from Yudkin and others representing ” negative attitudes towards sugar “. This program would include publishing a public opinion poll to find out what messages would resonate with consumers and policymakers, opening a place to publicly appeal to scientists for their unwanted sugar results, and finally, disseminating information. ‘studies funded by the sugar industry that examine the causes of chronic heart disease.

Spread disinformation

Like the sugar industry’s recent misinformation to fight labeling policies, as part of her campaign to increase sugar consumption in the 1960s, she began funding her own journal of the literature on sugars, fats, and chronic heart disease in an obvious attempt to dispel rumors that calories from sugar were at least part of the problem. The SRF paid Dr. Mark Hegsted and Dr. Robert McGandy, under the supervision of Fredrick Stare of Harvard University, a total of nearly $ 50,000 (in 2015 dollars) for their work. And the SRF has been heavily involved throughout the review process, urging scientists to focus on the dangers of consuming fat. SRF Vice President and Research Director John Hickson pointed out in 1965: “Our particular interest was in that part of nutrition where carbohydrates in the form of sucrose are claimed to be disproportionately contributing to the condition. metabolic, so far. attributed to aberrations called fat metabolism. I will be disappointed if this aspect is drowned in a cascade of general revisions and interpretations.

The study authors dismissed research showing the impact of sugar on chronic heart disease in several ways, particularly focusing on possible biases within individual studies instead of examining consensus between studies. The conclusion from the literature review was that there was “no doubt” that the only way to prevent chronic heart disease was to lower dietary cholesterol and replace saturated fat with unsaturated fat. And the SRF stuck with those results, telling lead authors, “that’s exactly what we had in mind.”

Deploy industry scientists / influence academia

Just as the Sugar Association and the Corn Refiners Association are now working with academic scientists to advance their talking points, when the review of the literature was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, the authors did not not disclosed the funding or close involvement of the SRF in the article. Dr Fredrick Stare, founder and chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, had a long history of funding the sugar and food industry: more than 30 articles authored by members of his department have was funded by the SRF between 1952 and 1956. The Department of Stare at Harvard is a key example of how industry funding can influence academic science, with dangerous consequences for public discourse and public policy.

Undermining policy

The manipulation of science does not take place in a vacuum. Often times, this also serves to change the conversation and have an impact on politics. Much like the sugar industry’s efforts today to undermine public health policies, in 1986 the FDA’s sugars task force assessed the scientific evidence for sugar, relying heavily on on the 1976 Industry Review, titled “Sugar in Human Diets”. The FDA report stated that “no conclusive evidence on sugars shows a danger to the general public when sugars are consumed at current levels.” The agency’s study was influenced by industry sponsorship, as the study chair went on to work for the Corn Refiners Association, a trade group that represents the interests of high-grade corn syrup manufacturers. in fructose.

This agency study, which had an obvious influence on the sugar and food industry, was responsible for determining the GRAS status for several added sugars and largely set the precedent for years of denial of health impacts of high sugar diets. .

The role of the sugar industry in the current epidemic of chronic diseases

It’s no wonder that even today our food policies are only just beginning to adequately address the association between added sugars and chronic disease. The sugar industry has succeeded magnificently in delaying the inevitable knowledge of the dangers of excessive sugar consumption by half a century. And they are always employing this same behavior. Last month, the American Heart Association released added sugar intake guidelines for children, recommending that children under the age of two not consume added sugars and that all other children consume less than 10 percent. calories from sugars, because “there is little room for nutrient-free foods. calories in the usual diet of very young children. The Sugar Association responded by accusing the American Heart Association of a lack of scientific integrity.

Fortunately, the tide is starting to turn despite the best efforts of the industry. The FDA label will soon include information about added sugars on food packaging. More and more local resolutions are popping up to tax sugary drinks. School meal policies add variety and improve the nutritional quality of children’s diets. And presentations like this reveal the truth about how the food industry has manipulated science to influence our diets for the worse.

Nonetheless, the aforementioned research highlights some interesting scientific integrity issues that remain today, including the stringency of conflict of interest policies in scientific journals and ethical issues related to the ability of decision makers to use funded research. by industry to shape policy. My colleague, Gretchen Goldman, explains in more detail how we should deal with conflicts of interest in science funding here. We need more transparency regarding the role of the sugar industry in scientific studies, including funding but also identifying the nature of the relationship between industry and science. Independent science should inform policies that protect public health from the harmful effects of added sugar.

Rachel J. Bradford