Sugar is inescapable today. Displays in local shops are dominated by chocolate, sweets, crisps, fizzy drinks and other such sugar-laden produce. A single serving of salad dressing, tomato sauce or cereal can often contain more than a person’s entire daily recommended intake of sugar. With adult obesity having risen an average of 27.5% in the past 33 years it is unsurprising that the link between diet and health is being scrutinised more carefully in recent years. Despite advancements in medicine, public health is declining. Type 2 diabetes in children was non-existent forty years ago, with zero cases reported in 1980. However, in 2010 there were 57,636 reported cases of the disease in the United States. However, with corporate interests weighed against public health, there has been rampant misinformation surrounding health and dietary recommendations in the past. According to a number of sources, the Sugar Industry has repeatedly influenced research involving the link between sugar consumption and health. Despite the conflict of interest, the results of such privately funded research has been widely distributed and consumed by the public.
Such industrial intervention was evident in 2015, when it was revealed that the Sugar Industry had a very strong presence in the National Caries Program (NCP), a research program funded by the US government to boost cavity prevention. Their goal was to eradicate tooth decay by the 1970s. According to Ferdman of the Washington Post, the subcommittee who directed research priorities largely consisted of members of the Sugar Research Foundation, a foundation established by the sugar industry. Unsurprisingly, the government funded research stated that lowering sweet consumption should not be prioritised and instead encouraged fluoride and sealants as a mean of interventive dental care to reduce tooth decay. Such methods have been proven largely ineffective today.
Similarly, in 2016 an article was discovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Fransisco, that revealed that the Sugar Research Foundation had allocated almost $50,000 to three Harvard scientists to publish their research concerning the link between sugar, fat and heart disease in 1967. The researcher noted that the studies being conducted were chosen by the Sugar Research Foundation and that the results minimised the link between sugar and heart health and instead focussed on a connection between saturated fat and coronary heart disease. The New York Times printed that Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University stated that the ‘new information’ provided ‘compelling evidence’ that the Sugar Industry had initiated research ‘expressly to exonerate sugar as a major risk factor for coronary disease’. Researchers at the University of California likened the research tactics employed by the Sugar Industry to those utilised by tobacco corporations. The article in question was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967. This prestigious medical journal did not require financial disclosures until 1984, more than a decade after the privately funded research was published.
This research article was published in the same year (1967) that the IRSF ceased their funding of a project which had found that rats on a high sugar diet had higher levels of triglycerides (fats) in the blood than the rats who were exclusively fed starch. The IRSF never released these findings.
Following closely to this trend, according to award nominated documentary ‘Fed Up’, Senator George McGovern had recommended that Americans consume less sugar and fat laden products in 1977, a mere ten years following the previous research studies. However, the egg, sugar and meat industries rejected such claims and requested the Senator alter his statements. Following this, the dietary recommendations were revised and rewritten to encourage the consumption of more lean products, rather than a decrease in consumption of rich products, as was originally suggested. This led to the Food Industry re-engineering thousands of products to meet the label of low-fat. However, these ‘low-fat’ items tended to contain twice the sugar content of the original full fat product.
There have been a number of similar examples reported in more recent years. According to the Washington Post, there was a proposal for a federal excise tax to be placed on all sugary drinks in 2009. However, The American Beverage Association, Coca-Cola company and the PepsiCo spent almost 40 million dollars to prevent the policy proposal from passing into law. The New York Times published another article concerning the Coca-Cola company revealing that it had funded researchers ‘millions of dollars’ to ‘play down’ the connection between obesity and consumption of sugary drinks. In June 2016, The Associated Press reported that various unnamed candy manufacturers were funding studies claiming that children who consume candy products regularly tend to weigh less than those who do not.
It is evident that corporate interference into research of vested interest has skewed public perception of how diet impacts health. Large corporations with monopolies over the sugar industry have managed to sway scientific research and government policy for decades as a result of their massive resources and undisputable economic power. Due to this large amount of misinformation and contradictory sources it is becoming increasingly difficult for the public to find a reliable third-party source of nutritional and dietary information.
By Aisling MacAree – Features Writer