In the 1960s, the sugar industry funded scientists to downplay the role of sugar in causing coronary heart diseases (CHD), according to historical documents released recently.
The nearly 50-year-old documents were published as part of a new research paper in the JAMA Internal Medicine (JIM) on Monday. It reveals that Sugar Research Foundation, a trade body known as the Sugar Association at present, paid three Harvard scientists in 1967 to do a literature review downplaying the link between sucrose and heart diseases.
The review, for which the scientists were paid an amount which would equal $ 50,000 in today's time, blamed fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of CHD. The sponsored review was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.
The new research finding in JAMA states that "Together with other recent analyses of sugar industry documents, our findings suggest the industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s that successfully cast doubt about the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in CHD."
The Guardian reported that while The Sugar Association in a statement said that the SRF should have had a more transparent approach in its research, it also blamed the authors of the new research of having an "anti-sugar narrative".
“We question this author’s continued attempts to reframe historical occurrences to conveniently align with the currently trending anti-sugar narrative, particularly when the last several decades of research have concluded that sugar does not have a unique role in heart disease. Most concerning is the growing use of headline-baiting articles to trump quality scientific research – we’re disappointed to see a journal of JAMA’s stature being drawn into this trend," the report quotes the association as saying.
Writing about the new findings Marion Nestle, a nutrition, food studies and public health professor at the New York University, stated that "Industry-sponsored nutrition research, like that of research sponsored by the tobacco, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries, almost invariably produces results that confirm the benefits or lack of harm of the sponsor’s products, even when independently sponsored research comes to opposite conclusions."
"Although considerable evidence demonstrates that those industries deliberately influenced the design, results, and interpretation of the studies they paid for, much less is known about the influence of food-company sponsorship on nutrition research. Typically, the disclosure statements of sponsored nutrition studies state that the funder had no role in their design, conduct, interpretation, writing, or publication. Without a ‘smoking gun’ it is difficult to prove otherwise," Nestle added.
In 2015, The New York Times reported how sugary drinks producer Coca-Cola was funding scientists who shifted blame for obesity away from bad diets and focused on the need to exercise.
“Coca-Cola’s sales are slipping, and there’s this huge political and public backlash against soda, with every major city trying to do something to curb consumption. This is a direct response to the ways that the company is losing. They’re desperate to stop the bleeding," Michele Simon, a public health lawyer, told NYT.