Sugar industry officials have funded research in order to obscure the dangers of sugar as far back as the 1960’s, according to internal documents of a group called the Sugar Research Foundation, now called the Sugar Association, which have just come to light. The documents, which are discussed in an article the medical journal JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that the sugar industry paid for research that downplayed the role of sugar in heart disease and pointed to the consumption of fats as the leading cause of heart problems.
According to NPR, the Sugar Research Foundation financed a study by Harvard scientists, which was subsequently published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1967. The study examined numerous other literature and experiments concerning the development of heart disease. The resulting published study concluded that the consumption of fat was of greatest concern when it came to heart health, and significantly downplayed the role of sugar. The financial backing of sugar industry was never disclosed, but it has now been revealed that the industry paid the equivalent of nearly $50,000 for the research.
Problematically, many of the studies reviewed were chosen by the Sugar Research Foundation itself. The documentation also suggests that the review process was less than objective, as well. Some studies, among many that were being released at the time, that showed a link between coronary heart disease and sugar were rejected or criticized for supposed scientific faults, while studies that possessed the same faults but held fat as the main culprit were validated and held as examples.
“The sugar interest groups, with sophistication, were staying on top of the science that was being developed and intervening in a very sophisticated way to try to push the discussion away from things that would hurt them and toward things that would help them,” said Stanton Glantz, one of the authors of the JAMA Internal Medicine piece. “There was a pretty clear case emerging that eating sugar increased triglycerides, which increased heart disease risk. I think if the science had been left to its own devices, within a few years, there would have been a consensus that there was a causal link, which then should have influenced regulatory policy.”
The authors also establish a timeline which they claim shows premeditation and motive for the Sugar Research Foundation, namely, to increase profits. In 1954, the then president of the Sugar Research Foundation pointed out that by encouraging the American public to cut fats from their diet, they would replace those lost carbohydrates with sugar. He estimated that American sugar consumption would rise by as much as one-third. By the early 1960s, as more studies began to be published linking sugar consumption with heart disease, the vice president of the organization, John Hickson, decided it was time to finance their own studies in order to “refute our detractors.”
“It was a very smart thing the sugar industry did, because review papers, especially if you get them published in a very prominent journal, tend to shape the overall scientific discussion,” Glantz said in an interview on the sugar industry with The New York Times.
The United States Department of Agriculture reports that the average American consumes between 150 – 170 pounds of sugar per year. This high figure is largely due to added sugars in processed foods. Often, sugar is not simply called “sugar” in food labeling. Often, it goes by other names, such as high fructose corn syrup, maltose, sucrose, cane sugar, syrup, or molasses. The America Heart Association recommends that people strongly monitor and limit the consumption of added sugars as the ubiquitous ingredient is very easy to over-consume without noticing.
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