The Not-so-Sweet Truth About our Health
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published documents on Monday, September 12th, 2016, revealing how the sugar industry misguided the American public’s understanding of the role of sugar in heart disease.
In 1965, the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) funded research to study the dietary causes of Coronary Heart Disease (CHD). This study identified fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of CHD, successfully casting doubt about the harms of sucrose on heart health.1 The SRF-funded study then targeted previous research that showed possible links between sugar consumption and heart disease. They attempted to discredit the previous research for their use of epidemiological and animal studies by labeling them as “limiting” and saying that this kind of research was not relevant to humans. In this same review, however, the same researchers referenced literature that linked saturated fat to heart problems, without critiquing the study for using the same methods.3 At the time of this publication, there was no disclosure on who funded the research because it was not a requirement for the SRF-funded research to do so until the 1980s.2 I find it to be questionable that a study funded by the sugar industry itself was able to discredit the evidence that sugar did indeed have an effect on overall health. It is only now, in more recent years, that public health sectors have been able to bring attention to the fact that low fat diets with large amounts of sugar are not really aiding, but instead impeding, our health.
However, this is not the only instance of large industries and companies paying off researchers to guide evidence in a favorable direction. Last year, The New York Times published an article unveiling how Coca-Cola gave millions of dollars to downplay the link between sugary drinks and obesity.2 In June, the Associated Press reported that candy makers had been funding studies stating that children who eat candy have a tendency to weigh less than children who do not eat candy. One of the scientists that was paid in the original SRF-funded study went on to become the head of nutrition for the United States Department of Agriculture. He then went on to assist in the drafting of the forerunner of the federal government’s dietary guidelines.2 While I do not mean to discredit any valuable work that he may have contributed to the field of health, I would like to draw attention to the fact that it’s not always clear that published research is intended to improve the health of the public; sometimes, the motive may be more politically and economically driven. Studies that are given media attention are not always those with our health in mind as the primary target.
Indeed, my intention in writing this piece is to share that we cannot always trust that what we are being told is true evidence. Politics and money sometimes also play a role in an area that should be strictly limited to science. We should not live in paranoia that we are being lied to about what should be common knowledge on the topic of our shared health, but sometimes research has not be conducted in the most ethical of ways. As a result of some of the research studies discussed above, as well as other societal factors, we have seen an immense increase in the rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. About 80% of the 600,000 food products sold in the United States contain added sugars. The average woman should consume a max of about 25 grams of sugar a day while the average man should consume a max of 38 grams a day. But the majority of us are well over this limit. As a nation, we cannot afford to take this kind of risk when it comes to the health of the public. Money, on many different levels, should not be the determinant of our collective well-being.
MBA, Cristin E. Kearns DDS. "Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research." : A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents. 2016. Accessed September 16, 2016. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2548255.
2. O'connor, Anahad. "How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat." The New York Times. 2016. Accessed September 16, 2016. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/13/well/eat/how-the-sugar-industry-shifted-blame-to-fat.html?_r=0.
- 3. Sifferlin, Alexandra. "How the Sugar Industry Shaped Heart Disease Research." Time. Accessed September 16, 2016. http://time.com/4485710/sugar-industry-heart-disease-research/?xid=homepage.