News & Politics

Report: Sugar Industry Downplayed Risk of Sugar, Shifted Blame onto Fats

I’m old enough to have seen several fad diets come and go, as well as seeing the evolution of the nutrition guide. Although, I must admit, I am a bit mystified at the revelation that sugar is bad for us. I can’t remember a time in my life when I believed that sugar wasn’t bad for us. That’s why my parents didn’t allow me to eat dessert whenever, wherever, and how ever much I wanted. According to new reports coming out, though, the sugar industry duped a lot of people into believing that sugar isn’t all that bad for you.

“Back in the 1960s, the fact that our diets influence the risk of heart disease was still a new idea. And there was a debate about the role of fats and the role of sugar,” according to NPR.

The article goes on to explain,

The sugar industry got involved in efforts to influence this debate. “What the sugar industry successively did,” argues Stanton Glantz of the University of California, San Francisco, “is they shifted all of the blame onto fats.”

The industry’s strategies were sophisticated, Glantz says, and are similar to those of the tobacco industry. For instance, in 1965 an industry group, the Sugar Research Foundation, secretly funded a scientific review that downplayed the evidence that linked sugar consumption to blood fat levels. The review was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Apparently, the dietary subterfuge worked because people are seemingly surprised to discover that the sugar industry manipulated and even covered up their internal studies in order to not undermine the sugar market.

NPR has uncovered the truth:

Now, what’s come to light in an investigation published Tuesday in the journal PLOS Biology is that the industry funded its own research project, but never disclosed the findings.

Glantz and his collaborators, including Cristin Kearns, an assistant professor at UCSF, evaluated a bunch of sugar industry internal documents. Here’s what they found:

Initial results showed that a high-sugar diet increased the animals’ triglyceride levels, a type of fat in the blood, through effects on the gut bacteria. In people, high triglycerides can increase the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The study also found that animals fed sugar had higher levels of an enzyme associated with bladder cancer in their urine.

In other words, sugar is bad for you. A fact known to non-STEM and non-sugar industry beholden parents as far back as at least the ’70s. The child in me is wishing that my parents had been duped by the sugar industry. My childhood would have had more cookies and Whatchamacallits in it.

To be clear, I’m not knocking the need to better understand the ways in which sugar interacts with the body. Better understanding does lead to better education, I get that. It can also lead to better treatments for health problems related to sugar intake. And if the sugar industry did intentionally mislead the public, they should suffer the consequences. I’m simply having trouble wrapping my brain around how the overriding conclusion that sugar is bad for us is news. I’m fully expecting to write an article next week about how researchers have concluded that water is wet.