The Big Lie: How the Sugar Industry Shifted the Danger Away from Itself

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A team of University of California San Francisco scientists has discovered that for decades the sugar industry had great success at blaming fat as the sole heart-threatening substance by funding research that shaped major public health opinion.

Documents discovered by a researchers and published Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that more than 50 years of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including a number of today’s dietary recommendations might have strongly shaped by the sugar industry.

One of the paid scientists, Dr. Mark Hegsted, went on to become the head of nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture.

In short, scientists and health officials focused on reducing saturated fat, not sugar, to prevent heart disease.

It all began way back in 1964 by a group now known as the Sugar Association, which internally discussed a campaign to address “negative attitudes toward sugar” after studies began emerging that linked sugar with heart disease, according to documents dug up from public archives.

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The following year the group approved “Project 226,” which entailed paying Harvard researchers today’s equivalent of $48,900 for an article reviewing the scientific literature, supplying materials they wanted reviewed, and receiving drafts of the article. At that time, researchers were not required to disclose where funding came from.

The American Heart Association has since acknowledged the link between high sugar consumption and heart disease and more public health advocates are sounding the alarm on the risks of sugar.

In a statement, the Sugar Association said it “should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities.”

The Harvard scientists and the sugar executives are no longer alive. One of the paid scientists, Dr. Mark Hegsted, went on to become the head of nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture. In 1977 he helped draft what would be the forerunner to the U.S. federal government’s dietary guidelines. Another was Dr. Fredrick J. Stare, the chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department.

“It was a very smart thing the sugar industry did, because review papers, especially if you get them published in a very prominent journal, tend to shape the overall scientific discussion,” said Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at UCSF and an author of the JAMA Internal Medicine paper.

In June, AP reported that candy makers were funding studies claiming that children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who do not.

In a 2015 article in The New York Times it was revealed that Coca-Cola provided millions of dollars in funding to researchers who sought to play down the link between sugary drinks and obesity.

More recently, in June, AP reported that candy makers were also funding studies claiming that children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who do not.

Fighting back

The American Heart Association has since acknowledged the link between high sugar consumption and heart disease and more public health advocates are sounding the alarm on the risks of sugar –especially the consumption of sweetened drink sugar bombs.

In 2014 Berkeley, California passed a soda tax and San Francisco tried to pass their own the same year, but it was foiled by the American Beverage Association which spent $10 million to defeat it.

San Francisco is trying again this year to pass the tax.

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