Sugar industry ‘paid’ scientists to downplay heart disease risk

NEW DELHI: New research on factors that have influenced the nutrition debate through the decades claims that the sugar industry paid scientists to downplay the link between added sugars and heart disease, and blame saturated fats instead.

editorial@tribune.com

Aditi Tandon

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, September 15

New research on factors that have influenced the nutrition debate through the decades claims that the sugar industry paid scientists to downplay the link between added sugars and heart disease, and blame saturated fats instead.

Published in the latest edition of JAMA Internal Medicine, the American Medical Association’s journal, the research examined internal documents of US-based trade group Sugar Research Foundation and discovered that it sponsored studies which downplayed evidence that sucrose consumption was also a risk factor for coronary heart disease.

The research paper reveals that SRF, despite being the principal funder of the research, never disclosed its association with it.

“We examined the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) internal documents, historical reports, and statements relevant to early debates about the dietary causes of coronary heart disease (CHD). The SRF sponsored its first CHD research project in 1965, a literature review published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which singled out fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of CHD and downplayed evidence that sucrose consumption was also a risk factor,” the paper notes.

It says SRF, a leading influencer of its time, set the review’s objective, contributed articles for inclusion, and received drafts but it did not disclose the foundation’s funding and role.

“Together with other recent analyses of sugar industry documents, our findings suggest the industry sponsored a research programme in the 1960s and 1970s that successfully cast doubt about the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in CHD. Policymaking committees should consider giving less weight to food industry-funded studies and include mechanistic and animal studies as well as studies appraising the effect of added sugars on multiple CHD biomarkers and disease development,” researchers suggest.

Dr Arun Gupta, a leading public health specialist in Delhi, says the new findings are significant because the role of sugar and its harmful effects on the human body continue to be debated. “The skewed focus on reducing total fat, saturated fat and dietary cholesterol vis-à-vis sugar needs to be revisited,” says Gupta.

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