According to historical documents, the sugar industry paid a group of Harvard researchers in the 1960’s to hide the link between sugar and heart disease, evidence which has been reported in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal.
One of the researchers later became the head of nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture, which means that he was able to transform federal government dietary guidelines to meet the sugar industry’s needs. This missing link has been held in place successfully for almost five decades, with only fat to blame for obesity and heart disease. However, new evidence shows that the current low-fat, high-sugar diets that nutritionists are recommending are one of the main causes of the obesity epidemic in the United States.
How was the information exposed?
The Sugar Association, previously known as the Sugar Research Foundation, had their archives dug up by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.
Their findings have highlighted the dark side of trusting industry-sponsored research and why scientists are now required to expose any conflicts of interest, something that was not the norm back then. It also reveals just how much power the sugar industry has, which is concerning.
The authors said: “These findings, our analysis, and current Sugar Association criticisms of evidence linking sucrose to cardiovascular disease suggest the industry may have a long history of influencing federal policy.”
How has the sugar industry responded?
The Sugar Association has released a statement this week, saying that it “should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities.”
But they also questioned the motives of the UCSF researchers who dug up their dirt, citing that it “conveniently aligns with the current anti-sugar trend”.
The JAMA Internal Medicine journal was also targeted for publishing historical data and was accused of following sensationalist trends. “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 to this trend,” said the spokesperson of the Association.
Is sugar actually linked to heart disease?
Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University, says: “This 50-year-old incident may seem like ancient history, but it is quite relevant, not least because it answers some questions germane to our current era.” Scientists around the world agree.
Authors from the University of California, San Francisco and from Nestle have noted that nutritional guidelines from the 1950’s and early 1960’s prove that both sugar and fat intake are linked to heart disease and that it’s only since the sugar industry’s pay-off that this information has been hidden from the public.
Low-fat diets that are high in sucrose can lead to cholesterol spikes, which has a detrimental health effect on the cardiovascular system.
In 1964, the vice president and director of research for the Sugar Research Foundation, John Hickson, proposed that the group “embark on a major program” to draw away any negative attitudes towards their product.
The fact that the sugar industry acknowledged that their product can cause damage to the health of their consumers proves that there is, and always was, a link between a sweet tooth and heart disease.