In 1960’s, the sugar industry paid scientists at Harvard University to publish articles downgrading the role of sugar in causing coronary heart disease, according to the JAMA Internal Medicine. The information is revealed in a study, published by JAMA Internal Medicine and written by dentist-turned-researcher from the University of California, San Francisco, Cristin Kearns.
The study, published in Nov. 2016, was based on 2,000 pages of Sugar Research Foundation reports documents and statements that Kearns discovered in the basement at Harvard University.
The documents present that a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation, which is currently known as the Sugar Association, paid what would be $50,000 today to two researchers from Harvard University to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease, according to The New York Times.
The article from The New York Times indicates that the research was published in a prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, and it minimized the role of sugar in causing heart problems and put the blame on saturated fat.
Mark Hegsted was one of the scientists who participated in the manipulation, and later he became the head of nutrition at The United States Department of Agriculture. The other scientist was Frederick J. Stare, who was the chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department at the time. The New York Times reports that neither of them is alive today.
During the time the manipulation occurred, researchers were not permitted to cite conflicts of interest or publicly acknowledge the payment. Hence, the two reviews that were published in the New England Journal of Medicine did not expose or uncover their relationship to the Sugar Research Foundation, according to statnews.com.
Due to the confidentiality advantage, the sugar industry was able to hide the proof that sugar had a link to heart disease. Instead, they shifted the blame on the intake of fat and cholesterol. They subsequently suggested that it is possible to reduce the risk of heart disease by cutting down the intake of fat alone, according to statnews.com.
The statnews.com article also indicates that the information presented in the journal led to the production of foods low in fat and high in sugar. Consequently, the sugar market share was boosted significantly.
“By doing that, it delayed the development of a scientific consensus on the sugar-heart disease for decades,” said Stanton Glantz, Kearns’s coauthor and an advisor at the University of California, San Francisco, according to statnews.com.
The newly discovered facts might be shocking for some people. Even though it is widely known that sugar is not healthy when overdosed, such manipulation might have had a significant impact on what American’s diet looks like nowadays.
“It is at once shocking that an industry would be so bold, but at the same time, given the money at stake, not surprising. I’m certain that the sugar industry has made quite an impact on peoples’ health,” said Christopher J. Miller, an associate professor of Biology and Ecology in the Math and Science Department at Saint Leo University.
Not only did the scientists lied, but the food industry also took advantage of the revelations as the companies could include more added sugars to the foods that they produced. The advantage that the fabricated research had given them was the fact that the consumers did not see a problem in such a procedure, for the sugar was not portrayed as very harmful.
“Over-consumption of simple carbohydrates has become commonplace. I believe many Americans were led to believe in the 1970’s and 1980’s fat was ‘bad’ and sugar, while not considered an ideal nutrient, was of little concern. The addition of ‘hidden sugars’ to many food items, consumption of large amounts of soft drinks (with the assumption we are hydrating), and the large proportions of foods, like desserts, is especially disconcerting,” added Miller.
Downgrading the harmful effects of sugar is not the first time corporations have attempted to manipulate information to their benefit. Even the world’s largest producer of sugary beverages, Coca-Cola, has spent millions of dollars on funding research that denies the relationship between sugary drinks and obesity, according to The New York Times.
The problem with information that tries portray fat as more harmful than sugar is that the truth is the complete opposite as not all fats are bad for the human body.
“With respect to the digestion and physiology of fat vs. sugar. Simply put, not all fats are bad, whereas refined sucrose, table sugar, has little redeeming value—it’s simply calories,” said Miller.
Despite the fact that sugar has no nutritional value for the human body, sugar industry companies were able to incorporate it in many foods that typically should not include the substance.
“With the rise of high fructose corn syrup, which is in most pre-sweetened foods and drinks, we have increased obesity rates, because it is metabolized so differently than other sugars,” added Miller.
The negative effects of sugar are still debated by scientists. Even though many of them recommend to decrease the daily intake of sugar, it might be very difficult to force the food industry to adapt to those recommendations, and minimize the negative impact of the substance on the society.