The sugar industry tries to manipulate science

“Companies are legally bound to maximize shareholder profits and therefore must oppose public health policies that could threaten profits.” It’s just the way the system is set up. “Unambiguous and long-standing evidence shows that to achieve this, various industries with products that may harm health have worked systematically to subvert the scientific process.”

Take the sugar industry, for example. Internal documents showed they fear health food ‘fadists’ could become ‘an active threat to…the industry’. Sugar was under attack, “and many poor unfortunates in the public are swallowing the misinformation spread by propagandists.” What books were like Yudkin’s Pure, white and deadly saying? “All the propaganda [is] that sugar is a non-essential food. Gasp! Nope! How dare they say that sugar is a non-essential food? Then they’ll say it’s not really food at all. And that was the sugar industry’s policy: “sugar is a cheap and safe food” – and that coming from the founder and chairman of Harvard’s Department of Nutrition, Fredrick Stare, long known as “the nutritionist pushing sugar at Harvard”.

Not only has the sugar industry tried to influence the direction of dental research, but heart disease research as well, by paying Stare and his colleagues to write this review to minimize any sugar-related risk. Now, to be fair, that was five years before we even realized that triglycerides were also an independent risk factor beyond just cholesterol. The main reason attention has remained focused on saturated fats isn’t because of the power of the sugar industry; there just wasn’t as much data to back it up.

In fact, “the [even] stronger meat and dairy industries” like the anti-sugar message. Who do you think sponsored Yudkin? In fact, like the first page of Pure, white and deadly, he thanks all the food and pharmaceutical companies who have provided him with such “generous and constant support”. Who paid for Yudkin’s lecture tour? The Egg the industry, of course, to try to lower the cholesterol a bit.

Hegsted, one of the co-authors of the funded journal, wasn’t exactly an industry cheerleader. He recommended that people reduce all risky things: “less meat, less saturated fat, less cholesterol, [and] less sugar, less salt. It wasn’t the sugar industry that got him fired for speaking truth to power; it was the beef industry.

The sugar industry has been able to hide its funding, because the New England Journal of Medicine only required conflict of interest disclosure 17 years later. These nosy researchers suggest that policy makers “should consider giving less weight to studies funded by the food industry.” But why does the food industry finance studies? When it comes to ‘corporate manipulation of research’, conflicts of interest should not only be disclosed and ‘managed’, but ideally ‘eliminated’.

Things may not change until public health researchers start to “deny[ing] take money from [junk food] industry”, period. “It worked for tobacco.” Many prestigious medical and public health institutions “have… instituted funding bans on the tobacco industry.”

But wait; can’t scientists remain “objective” [and] impartial” even in the face of all that money? Apparently not, because[i]Industry-funded research has been shown to be up to 88 times more likely to produce funder-friendly results. What do we think companies do to give away free money?

The classic example is the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, which “accepted $1 million [grant] of Coca Cola. Prior to the subsidy, their official position was that “frequent consumption of [sugary beverages] can be an important factor in… the initiation and progression of dental care [cavities],” who-after the grant – replaced by “the scientific evidence is certainly unclear on the exact role non-alcoholic beverages play. As CSPI’s Integrity in Science Project puts it, “What a difference a million dollars makes!”

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It’s also worth watching Professor Robert H. Lustig’s seminal talk, “Sugar: The Bitter Truth.”

Rachel J. Bradford