Old Study Sheds New Light on Sugar Industry’s Controversial Past

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), recently uncovered a controversial 1968 study funded by the International Sugar Research Foundation (ISRF) and have compiled a new paper based on their findings.

The 1968 study, titled Project 259, studied the effects of sugar on rats. According to the historical documents the researchers uncovered, preliminary findings revealed that ingesting large amounts of sugar may be associated with heart disease. Shortly after these findings were uncovered, the ISRF pulled funding from the study.

“All we know is that the plug got pulled and nothing got published,” Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at UCSF and a co-author of the new paper, told CNN.

Glantz continued, explaining that very little is known about what the researchers themselves were allowed to do with the data they compiled in that fateful 1968 study.

The study, which seemingly provides hard evidence of the negative effects of ingesting too much sugar, was never published. Countless studies have proven that sugar, as well as other factors, have an effect on oral health. Age, for example, affects oral health in that 70.1% of adults 65 years and older have some form of periodontal disease. There’s no reason to hide this information. So why hide the effects of sugar on other health issues?

According to an analysis published by the same UCSF researchers in JAMA International Medicine last year, it’s been suggested that the ISRF later sponsored a study that concluded fat to be “the dietary culprit” in heart disease and related health issues.

The ISRF, now called the Sugar Association, contested the analysis brought forth by UCSF researchers.

“[It’s] not actually a study, but a perspective: a collection of speculations and assumptions about events that happened nearly five decades ago, conducted by a group of researchers and funded by individuals and organizations that are known critics of the sugar industry,” a representative told CNN.

This isn’t the first time a large industry or corporation has attempted to cover up potentially harmful findings, either. Glantz has compared the ISRF’s actions to those of big tobacco, calling them “manipulation science.”

Another such instance of manipulation came in 2015, when The New York Times reported that Coca-Cola had paid scientists to muddle the link between high sugar content and obesity. In addition, The Associated Press discovered that candy makers had funded skewed research in 2016.

These studies can make or break a big industry, which helps, in part, explain why big players might not want the results getting out. But at the same time, research that reveals the health effects of certain foods is critical to shaping federal dietary guidelines.

“Industry-funded research often shows results that are in line with the sponsors’ interests,” Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, told The Verge.

When it comes to medical research, facts such as “99.7% of adults believe a healthy smile is socially important,” and “one in five Americans doesn’t have an ideal bite,” are rarely disputed because the public trusts in the validity of the scientific findings there. It appears the food industry may be another story altogether.

“This wasn’t about science. This was about marketing,” Nestle concluded.

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