Sugar industry paid Harvard scientists to shift blame for heart disease from sugar to fat – Quartz

Don’t trust anyone.

This is what emerges from a new study published today in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), which claims that the sugar industry in the 1960s launched a campaign in which it funded the nutritional research to downplay the evidence linking rising sugar consumption in the United States to heart disease. . In doing so, the industry was able to shift the negative attention away from sugar to fat and cholesterol, which in the 1980s were seen as the major contributors to cardiovascular disease.

It wasn’t until February of this year that the U.S. government relaxed its stance on cholesterol, illustrating how powerful industry forces can be in shaping decades of federal policy and conventional wisdom on what we eat and if it’s healthy.

The JAMA study is based on more than 320 documents discovered primarily in the records of the University of Illinois by three researchers at the University of California at San Francisco.

The plot was hatched in 1962, when industry stakeholders at a Sugar Research Foundation meeting voted on a new wave of medical studies linking sugar to heart disease, the study found. Three years later, after the publication of a damning article in the New York Herald Tribune, the foundation decided to pull the trigger on what it called “Project 226”: article of several articles whose conclusions could have a negative impact on sugar sales.

As the JAMA article noted, the chairman of the Harvard department overseeing the exam at the time was also invited to serve on the Sugar Foundation’s board of directors.

Project 226 produced a two-part review that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, which concluded that there was no doubt that heart disease was related not to sugar, but to cholesterol. and fats. The review article, which did not reveal that the study was funded by the Sugar Research Foundation, would have a lasting impact on public health.

“The literature review has helped shape not only public opinion on the causes of heart problems, but also the scientific community’s perspective on how to assess dietary risk factors for heart disease,” said Cristin Kearns, one of the authors of the JAMA article, said in a statement.

Kearns and his two co-authors conclude that policy-making committees should consider giving less weight to studies funded by the food industry, which remain endemic today. As recently as August 2015, Coca-Cola was exposed for paying researchers to generate claims that physical activity can lessen the impact of soda consumption. Nutrition expert Marion Nestlé has even started listing such cases on her personal website.

Already, the JAMA report has garnered condemnation from corners of the public health community.

“We have to ask ourselves how many lives and dollars could have been saved, and how different the current health situation would be if the industry did not manipulate science in this way,” said Jim Krieger, executive director of Healthy Food America.

In response, the Sugar Association (formerly the Sugar Research Foundation) admitted in a statement that it should have “exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities,” but said funding and transparency in the 1960s were not what they are today. The group also lamented that the article “conveniently” aligns with the currently fashionable anti-sugar narrative.

Rachel J. Bradford