Outside of the world of medical journals, the reality of corporate and industry sponsored studies is not all that widely known. Yes, most people are aware of the scandalous revelations that the tobacco industry sponsored studies that backed their claims that smoking was not dangerous. Some people know of the corn lobby and herbicide industry producing documentation that says Roundup, for example, does not cause cancer or birth defects. But not everyone realizes that sponsorship of medical studies was not required to be disclosed by the authors by medical journals until 1984.
Prior to that time, and even to an extent now, food industries were known to sponsor (pay for studies) that made their product look good, or at least not as bad as other foods and products. (Hence, part of the reason we have messaging that contradicts traditional food wisdom.) On Monday, an analysis/editorial was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) exposing the sugar industry for their sponsorship of studies that claimed to conclude sugar does not cause heart disease. Thirty one pages of correspondence were analyzed and the conclusion is that the sugar industry colluded with researchers to promote the idea that only fat and cholesterol cause heart disease.
The time period when these studies were sponsored is important in context. It was the late 1950s and 1960s when Ancel Keyes’ hypothesis that saturated fat and cholesterol cause heart disease was taking hold in the medical and nutrition world. Any type of food that could prove that consumption would not lead to heart disease would have a much easier path to profits.
In 1964, the group now known as the Sugar Assn. internally discussed a campaign to address “negative attitudes toward sugar” after studies began emerging linking sugar with heart disease, according to documents dug up from public archives. 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.
The resulting article published in 1967 concluded there was “no doubt” that reducing cholesterol and saturated fat was the only dietary intervention needed to prevent heart disease. The researchers overstated the consistency of the literature on fat and cholesterol while downplaying studies on sugar, according to the analysis.“Let me assure you this is quite what we had in mind and we look forward to its appearance in print,” an employee of the sugar industry group wrote to one of the authors.
Naturally, they did not inform the New England Journal of Medicine of this arrangement before the study was printed.
A committee that advised the federal government on dietary guidelines said the available evidence shows “no appreciable relationship” between dietary cholesterol and heart disease, although it still recommended limiting saturated fats.
The American Heart Assn. cites a study published in 2014 in saying that too much added sugar can increase risk of heart disease, though the authors of that study says the biological reasons for the link are not completely understood.
The mechanism being understood or not, the reality is that before the various food industries started putting out “expert” studies (propaganda) touting the benefits of their products, is that sugar was something to limit despite its sweetness. That is what the sugar industry sought to avoid revealing in scientific studies.
The findings published Monday are part of an ongoing project by a former dentist, Cristin Kearns, to reveal the sugar industry’s decades-long efforts to counter science linking sugar with negative health effects, including diabetes.