Analysis of 50-year old documents suggests the sugar industry manipulated research to play down the harmful effects of sugar on the heart, a new study says.
The sugar industry paid Harvard University nutrition scientists to build a case against saturated fat and cholesterol as primary causes of heart disease while downplaying the negative health effects of sugary foods and beverages, according to researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF).
As a result, consumers may have been misled for decades into thinking only saturated fat harmed the heart, and not sweets, the researchers said. During that time, obesity and associated ills like diabetes reached alarming levels in the United States.
“There are all kinds of ways that you can subtly manipulate the outcome of a study, which industry is very well practiced at,” said the study’s senior author, Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at UCSF.
“As the saying goes, he who pays the piper calls the tune,” Glantz said in a university news release.
The Sugar Association said it still supports industry-funded research, but admitted it should have been more open about its past involvement.
For its report, the UCSF team searched public archives for internal corporate documents from the sugar industry.
According to their analysis, the sugar industry was aware by the 1950s that if people cut fat out of their diets, their sugar intake would jump about 30%.
Around this time, studies began to warn of a link between sugar and risk factors for heart disease, like high cholesterol and triglycerides, the researchers said.
As media attention on the health risks associated with sugar increased, a trade group for the sugar industry – the Sugar Research Foundation – commissioned a research review by Harvard scientists.
The association report appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967.
In response to the new report, the Sugar Association said in a statement that conflict-of-interest policies were less stringent and researchers weren’t required to make financial disclosures back then. However, the association acknowledged it should have “exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities.” The statement further said research had continued to show that sugar “does not have a unique role in heart disease.”
The UCSF team disputes that, noting health policy has since begun to address sugar’s role in heart disease.
“There is now a considerable body of evidence linking added sugars to hypertension and cardiovascular disease, which is the No. 1 cause of premature death in the developed world,” said study co-author Laura Schmidt. “Yet health policy documents are still inconsistent in citing heart disease risk as a health consequence of added sugar consumption.”
Despite these revelations, which have been reiterated on every major television news program in America this week, no policy changes will occur. Statin drugs will continue to be the foundation for our failed attempt at reducing heart disease and Americans will consume more and more sugar each year. Obesity has actually leveled off (but not dropped) and diabetes is rising at epidemic rates.
The Bottom Line:
In 1820, the average American consumed about 5 pounds of added sugar each year. Today, that figure is 130 pounds per year. Sugar creates insulin resistance, high triglycerides, diabetes, heart disease and death. The sugar industry and the drug industry conspired to create this scenario. Despite all the mounting evidence pointing to this issue, little has changed in the food industry or our health care system.
Source: September 13, 2016 National Institutes of Health