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Sugar lobby paid scientists to blur sugar’s role in heart disease – report

New report highlights battle by the industry to counter sugar’s negative health effects, and the cushy relationship between food companies and researchers.

A new study details how the sugar industry worked to downplay emerging science linking sugar and heart disease. Influential research that downplayed the role of sugar in heart disease in the 1960s was paid for by the sugar industry, according to a report released on Monday.

With backing from a sugar lobby, scientists promoted dietary fat as the cause of coronary heart disease instead of sugar, according to a historical document review published in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Though the review is nearly 50 years old, it also showcases a decades-long battle by the sugar industry to counter the product’s negative health effects.

The findings come from documents recently found by a researcher at the University of San Francisco, which show that scientists at the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), known today as the Sugar Association, paid scientists to do a 1967 literature review that overlooked the role of sugar in heart disease.

SRF set an objective for the review, funded it and reviewed drafts before it was published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which did not require conflict of interest disclosure until 1984. The three Harvard scientists who wrote the review made what would be $50,000 in today’s dollars from the review.

Marion Nestle, a nutrition, food studies and public health professor at New York University, said the food industry continues to influence nutrition science, in an editorial published alongside the JAMA report.

“Today, it is almost impossible to keep up with the range of food companies sponsoring research – from makers of the most highly processed foods, drinks, and supplements to producers of dairy foods, meats, fruits, and nuts – typically yielding results favorable to the sponsor’s interests,” Nestle said. “Food company sponsorship, whether or not intentionally manipulative, undermines public trust in nutrition science, contributes to public confusion about what to eat, and compromises Dietary Guidelines in ways that are not in the best interest of public health.”

The cushy relationship between food companies and researcher has been captured in recent investigations by the Associated Press and New York Times. The AP revealed in June that candy trade groups were funding research into sweets. And in 2015, the New York Times showed how Coca-Cola has funded millions in research to downplay the link between sugary beverages and obesity.

The Sugar Association said in a statement that SRF “should have exercised greater transparency” in its research, but also accused the study authors 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,” the Sugar Association said. “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 findings were based on documents found by Cristin Kearns, a postdoctoral fellow at UCSF, in library archives.

The scientists and executives involved are no longer alive.

In recent years, the link between fat and heart disease has become a more contentious topic – a 2010 review of scientific studies of fat in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that “there is no convincing evidence that saturated fat causes heart disease”. The role of sugar in heart disease is still being debated.

 

Source: The Guardian, September 2016

By: Amanda Holpuch , @holpuch

Read the article at: The Guardian

Photograph: Matt Rourke/AP

 

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