50 Years Ago, Sugar Industry Quietly Paid Scientists To Point Blame At Fat

 

According to a newly published article published in JAMA Internal Medicine, the sugar industry funded research that downplayed the risks of sugar and highlighted the hazards of fat in the 1960’s.

The authors of the new article say that for the past five decades, the sugar industry has been attempting to influence the scientific debate over the relative risks of sugar and fat.

The article draws on five-decade-old internal documents from the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) to show that they wanted to “refute” concerns about sugar’s possible role in heart disease. The SRF sponsored its first coronary heart disease (CHD) research project in 1965 – a literature review published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which singled out fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of CHD and downplayed evidence that sucrose consumption was also a risk factor. There was no disclosure of the sugar industry funding the study when it was published.

There’s no evidence that the SRF directly edited the manuscript published by the Harvard scientists in 1967, but there is “circumstantial” evidence that the interests of the sugar lobby shaped the conclusions of the review, the researchers say. If Americans could be persuaded to eat a lower-fat diet – for the sake of their health – they would need to replace that fat with something else. America’s per capita sugar consumption could go up by a third.

In the ’60s, the SRF became aware of “flowing reports that sugar is a less desirable dietary source of calories than other carbohydrates,” as John Hickson, SRF vice president and director of research, put it in one document.
He recommended that the industry fund its own studies – “Then we can publish the data and refute our detractors.”

 

The next year, after several scientific articles were published suggesting a link between sucrose and coronary heart disease, the SRF approved the literature-review project. It wound up paying approximately $50,000 in today’s dollars for the research.
One of the researchers was the chairman of Harvard’s Public Health Nutrition Department – and an ad hoc member of SRF’s board.

In a statement, the Sugar Association – which evolved out of the SRF – said it is challenging to comment on events from so long ago.

“We acknowledge that the Sugar Research Foundation should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities, however, when the studies in question were published funding disclosures and transparency standards were not the norm they are today,” the association said.

As for the article authors who dug into the documents around this funding, they offer two suggestions for the future.

 

“Policymaking committees should consider giving less weight to food industry-funded studies,” they write.

 

They also call for new research into any ties between added sugars and coronary heart disease.

Article adapted from npr.org.

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