Sugar Industry Bamboozled Science and Health Experts

The sugar industry, led by Sugar Association, achieved a deception of a magnitude and duration that only now is being addressed, after having begun in 1965, according to a team of researchers who did an analysis of that industry’s recently released internal documents.

The historical analysis of the Sugar Research Foundation’s internal documents, whose results and conclusions were published Monday, Sept. 12, 2016 in the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine. What that analysis revealed was that through manipulation of a few scientists and thereafter, scientific studies, the sugar industry was able to shift the blame for coronary heart disease away from sucrose and point it instead almost exclusively to fats and cholesterol.

Only now were internal documents and correspondence between what is now the sugar industry’s Washington, D.C.-based trade center, the Sugar Association, and Harvard scientists in an effort to point science and consumers away from “negative attitudes toward sugar.”

First the Sugar Association discussed creating a campaign to do just that among themselves in 1964, then in 1965 paid three Harvard researchers what would amount to about $50,000 today to publish results of three hand-picked studies to be published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine in 1967.

Needless to say, the studies provided to the Harvard researchers by the Sugar Research Foundation steered clear of any evidence between sugar and heart disease, but instead became the foundation of the decades-long scrutiny of saturated and other fats as coronary artery disease culprits.

One of those Harvard researchers paid by the sugar industry was D. Mark Hegsted who later became the head of nutrition at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and would go on to create what would later become the nation’s federal governmental nutritional guidelines. Dr. Frederick J. Stare, also one of the three paid researchers, went on to become the chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department.

Changes in disclosures by researchers involved in scientific studies have made what happened in that 1967 study at least apparent because funding sources, conflicts of interest, and the role(s) of funding sources in a project are required in peer-reviewed journals. What hasn’t changed is that the food industry continues to fund research projects aimed at positive outcomes for the products they provide – and research with negative outcomes never has to reach the light of day. Editorial content in JAMA Internal Medicine discusses issues related to the disclosure of how the food industry influenced the nation’s health and wallets in two articles: “Food Industry Funding of Nutritional Research: the Relevance of History for Current Debates” and “Corporate Funding of Food and Nutrition Research: Science or Marketing?

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    • Deb Jones

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