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Sugar industry paid researchers to downplay health risks and blame fat

Have you heard the news?

A recent article in JAMA Internal Medicine revealed that 50 years ago, the sugar industry paid scientists to blame fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of heart disease and downplay the risks associated with sugar.

These findings were reported in many major media outlets.

An Associated Press article on cbc.ca says,

“The sugar industry began funding research that cast doubt on sugar’s role in heart disease — in part by pointing the finger at fat — as early as the 1960s, according to an analysis of newly uncovered documents.

The resulting article published in 1967 concluded there was “no doubt” that reducing cholesterol and saturated fat was the only dietary intervention needed to prevent heart disease. The researchers overstated the consistency of the literature on fat and cholesterol, while downplaying studies on sugar, according to the analysis.”

An article on npr.org by Camila Domonoske states,

“The article draws on internal documents to show that an industry group called the Sugar Research Foundation wanted to “refute” concerns about sugar’s possible role in heart disease. The SRF then sponsored research by Harvard scientists that did just that. The result was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, with no disclosure of the sugar industry funding.”

In a blog post on the site SugarScience.org, the editor writes about the article,

“It reveals that the sugar industry began working closely with nutrition scientists in the mid-1960s to single out fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of coronary heart disease and to downplay evidence that sucrose consumption was also a risk factor.”

This review uncovers what many health practitioners, researchers, journalists and the public have wondered for years.

After the faulty research came out in the 60’s the low fat movement was born. But since then our disease rates on the whole have not gone down. And so many have been wondering, if the fat is so bad and we’ve made great strides to minimize it in our diets, why are people still getting so sick?

While the authors of the analysis (Stanton Glantz, Cristin Kearns and Laura Schmidt) were more interested in the process and the sugar industry’s attempt to influence policy, rather than making a link between sugar and heart disease, I think it reveals that the nutrition guidelines recommended by governments over the last 40 years were not wholly sound and perhaps need some review.

The science is definitely building around sugar’s negative impact on health and the authors of the report suggest that policy makers should give less important to studies that are funded by the food industry and they call for new research into the links between sugars and coronary heart disease.

This article first appeared here in the Halifax Citizen on October 5, 2016. 

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