As health care costs soar in the country, we can partly thank the sugar industry for helping make so many of us fat, diabetic, heart troubled. Turns out the sugar industry colludes with researchers in ways that likely affect most of us. We are easily the fattest country in the world. We lead the league in all fat-related health problems, including diabetes and heart disease. That raises health care costs for us all, even those who eat well and don’t want diabetes or bad teeth from too much sugar intake. Sugar industry collusion with researchers also gives us less room to sit in those awful little coach seats commercial airlines shoehorn us into. Thanks, Coca-Cola. Thanks, sugar industry.
Coca-Cola hides Sugar’s Heart Trouble Affects
The New York Times reported this week that the sugar industry paid scientists to hide the link between sugar and cardiovascular disease. In the 1960s, the paid researchers played down the dangers of sugar while simultaneously promoting the idea that saturated fat was the culprit that made people fat and harmed their hearts. They did it all under the guide of “science,” helping fatten and heart attack millions of Americans.
Sugar Industry dictated dietary recommendations
A researcher at UC-San Francisco recently discovered the sugar industry documents and published them September 13, 2016 in JAMA Internal Medicine. The documents, the Times noted, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.
Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at U.C.S.F. and an author of the JAMA Internal Medicine paper, said, “They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades.”
Secret Sugar Industry Documents
The documents show that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation – now known as the Sugar Association – paid three Harvard scientists the rough sum of $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of research regarding sugar, fat and heart disease. The sugar group handpicked the studies used in the review. The sugar propaganda piece was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. It minimized the sugar-heart health link while pointing the finger at saturated fat.
Collusion Continues Today
The Times reported, “Even though the influence-peddling revealed in the documents dates back nearly 50 years, more recent reports show that the food industry has continued to influence nutrition science.”
The Times revealed last year that sugar king Coca-Cola paid millions to fund ostensibly legitimate researchers who then minimized the link between sugar and obesity. In June 2016, The Associated Press reported candy makers were funding studies that claimed candy-eating kids tend to weigh less than those not stuffing themselves with sugar. (You can’t make this stuff up.)
One of the Harvard scientists who was paid by the sugar execs to fudge the story (pun intended) was D. Mark Hegsted. He went on to become the head of nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture (Of course he was! The revolving door between government and industry wasn’t invented yesterday). In 977 he helped draft the forerunner to the federal government’s dietary guidelines. (So if you’re diabetic or fat, you may owe something of your condition to Hegsted and the U.S. government.) Another fudgey researcher was Dr. Fredrick J. Stare, chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department. (One more good reason why Harvard is the most richly endowed university in the country.)
Barn Door Open, Horse Out
The New England Journal of Medicine did not begin to require financial disclosures until 1984.
The industry “should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities,” the Sugar Association statement said in a statement, even as it defended industry-funded research and claimed that several decades of research had concluded that sugar “does not have a unique role in heart disease.” (Spoiler alert. Everyone knows that it does, if not directly then certainly indirectly by producing dangerously obese citizens.)
The revelations matter because the debate about sugar harms and saturated fat continues today, Dr. Glantz said. For many decades, health officials encouraged Americans to reduce their fat intake, which led many to consume low-fat, high-sugar foods that many people not living on the moon now know fuel the obesity crisis.
“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,” Dr. Glanz said, apparently admiring the Corleone edict that any action is ok so long as it’s all about business.
Dr. Hegsted used his research to influence the government’s dietary recommendations, which emphasized saturated fat as a heart disease precursor while largely claiming sugar was only empty calories linked to tooth decay. Saturated fat warnings today remain cardinal to the government’s dietary guidelines, though in recent years the American Heart Association, the World Health Organization and other health authorities have also begun to warn that too much added sugar may increase cardiovascular disease risk.
Marion Nestle (massive irony alert), a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, wrote an editorial accompanying the new paper in which she said the documents provided “compelling evidence” that the sugar industry had initiated research “expressly to exonerate sugar as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease.”
“I think it’s appalling,” she said. “You just never see examples that are this blatant.”
Appalling, yes, but it’s just business as usual for Coca-Cola and the rest of the sugar pushers who don’t care whether we live or die, so long as we do it with some sodas and candy in our guts and refrigerators.
- How Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat – NY Times
- NPR: Sugar Industry paid Scientists to blame Fat
- Sugar Industry Colludes with Researchers