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The sugar industry isn’t looking very sweet these days. New research reveals that as early as the 1960s, Big Sugar was paying prominent nutritionists to downplay the carbohydrate’s role in cardiovascular disease and focus on saturated fat instead.
A new report by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, on the manipulation was recently published in the JAMA Internal Medicine. The report states that the Sugar Research Foundation, now known as the Sugar Association, paid two Harvard nutritionists $6,500 in 1965 — that’s $48,000 in today’s dollars — to conduct the research.
Those Harvard researchers didn’t disclose the sugar industry funding source when they published their research, which refuted other studies implicating sugar as a contributing factor to heart disease, in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967.
Stanton Glantz, who co-authored the new article analyzing the sugar industry’s role in past research, tells PBS that the 1967 Harvard paper “helped shift the emphasis of the [heart disease] discussion away from sugar onto fat” and essentially “delayed the development of a scientific consensus on sugar-heart disease for decades.”
Marion Nestle, a nutrition expert at New York University, writes in an editorial accompanying the UCSF research:
Science is not supposed to work this way. … 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.
Nestle notes that both Coca-Cola and candymakers have recently tried to influence research by funding nutrition studies. The Sugar Association has issued the following statement:
We acknowledge that the Sugar Research Foundation should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities. … It is challenging for us to comment on events that allegedly occurred 60 years ago, and on documents we have never seen.
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