A blockbuster story about sugar science is appearing in media outlets all over the world. A summary? The sugar industry began “damage control” on research linking sugar to heart disease in the 1960s. In fact, with the help of Harvard researchers, they pointed the finger at fat.
This is according to an analysis of documents published in Monday’s issue of JAMA‘s (Journal of the American Medical Association) Internal Medicine. The documents were found by a UC San Francisco researcher; analysis was conducted by a team of UC scientists and researchers.
The story is raising more questions and concerns about how food and beverage manufacturers fund scientific research to shape their messages.
Laura Schmidt‘s Tweet summed the story up best.
"It's shaping up to be a blockbuster."
Study details sugar industry attempt to shape science https://t.co/6a39DGtf37
— Laura A. Schmidt (@LauraSchmidtPhD) September 14, 2016
Schmidt is a co-author of the blockbuster journal article. She’s a health policy professor at UC San Francisco (UCSF). She’s also the lead investigator on SugarScience, a website collaboratively managed by faculty and researchers from UC San Francisco, UC Davis and Emory University. SugarScience is a definitive source of evidence-based, scientific information about sugar and its impact on health. At UC Food Observer, it’s our go-to source on all things sugar. #GlobalFood
Also on the research team are Cristin Kearns – she’s the lead author – and Stanton A. Glantz, a UCSF professor of medicine, who serves as director of the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education. (The sugar industry took some ideas from Big Tobacco’s play book, as Glantz notes.)
This is an important story that is rightfully getting a lot of coverage (among the growing list publications with stories are Vox, The Guardian, Bloomberg, Time, CNN and Mother Jones.)
To get caught up, we recommend reading these pieces:
First, go to the source – the research team. They’ve produced a blog post that tells the entire story…and it’s compelling. Kearns wins our award for best health detective.
“When the doors closed at the Great Western Sugar Company in Colorado in 1976, someone forgot to sweep the floor. Gathering dust in the archives were 1500 pages of internal documents exposing how the Sugar Industry used Tobacco-style tactics to dismiss troubling health claims against their products. Denver dentist turned postdoctoral scholar at the UCSF School of Medicine, Cristin Kearns, knew she’d stumbled on something big: the industry’s secret playbook. Her story is vividly captured in the Canadian documentary, Sugarcoated, now available on Netflix.”
More good reads:
- Candice Choi covers the story for the Associated Press. Choi’s piece is appearing in media outlets across the globe.
- San Francisco Chronicle editorial: The sugar industry is taking cues from Big Tobacco.
- The New York Times Anahad O’Connor covered the story.
- Melissa Bailey’s smart take for STAT News.
- Listen to an interview with Dr. Glantz and Marion Nestle on JAMA.
One of the most important pieces we read is highly relevant to the larger issue of who funds research and how industry connects with academic institutions. It appears in JAMA Internal Medicine and is written by @marionnestle (of Food Politics). Nestle’s piece explores the history of industry-funded nutrition research and raises some vital questions about ethical considerations. She writes:
“Industry-sponsored nutrition research, like that of research sponsored by the tobacco, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries, almost invariably produces results that confirm the benefits or lack of harm of the sponsor’s products, even when independently sponsored research comes to opposite conclusions.”
Stay tuned…there is sure to be more…