GOOD

The Sugar Conspiracy Is Real

Sugar industry insiders have shaped nutritional research for decades

We’ve been doing battle with our food for a long time now. Last year, nutrition laws cinched the noose tighter around fats, identifying trans fat and banning it from use in food. But fat isn’t the only culprit, nor is it the worst.

Yesterday, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) released a groundbreaking report by Cristin E. Kearns, whose research has exposed the role of the sugar industry in funding foundational nutrition research in the 1960s. Because of the undisclosed funding by the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), sugar evaded the same level of scrutiny that fat has undergone for over the past fifty years.


The sugar industry has been laying it on thick for decades. Photo via Reddit

Back in the 1960s, concerns for rising heart disease were increasing. Everyone wanted to get to the bottom of why, and two leading physiologists each thought they had discovered the cause of coronary heart disease (CHD). John Yudkin’s hypothesis pointed to added sugars as the primary cause, while Ancel Keys identified fat and dietary cholesterol.

Now, this is where things get sticky. The sugar industry decided to weigh-in on the research: historical documents show how SRF members became intricately involved in the studies it was funding, going as far as to directly contact researchers about their findings. Unsurprisingly, the results of the research highlighted fat’s nasty effect on cholesterol levels, diverting attention away from sugar. Not only was sugar obscured from the list of suspects causing CHD, but it was hailed by the industry as healthy source of energy.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Even I was shocked by how blatant the relationship was between the sugar association and the researchers.[/quote]

“The industry sought to influence the scientific debate over the dietary causes of CHD in the 1950s and 1960s, a debate still reverberating in 2016,” Kearns explains. “The industry would subsequently spend $600,000 ($5.3 million in 2016 dollars) to teach ‘people who had never had a course in biochemistry… that sugar is what keeps every human being alive and with energy to face our daily problems.’”

The SRF is what is we now know of as the Sugar Association, the sugar industry lobby that has been opposing measures to cut back on sugar consumption since its shady dealings in nutrition research in the 1960s. It openly opposed the 2015 U.S. Dietary Guidelines Committee recommendations to curb added sugars in food, stating that “sugar is an important ingredient that contributes essential functional properties to food formulation, including safety as a natural food preservative. In fact, historic, as well as recent, analyses on ‘added sugars’ intake confirm that sugar makes many nutrient-rich foods palatable which is a positive factor in the intake levels of many essential micronutrients.”

[quote position="left" is_quote="false"]Clearly, too much of a good thing can quickly turn deadly.[/quote]

It’s no surprise that the Sugar Association is unhappy with yesterday’s breaking news. It released a statement today expressing its disappointment in JAMA, implying that the prestigious medical journal has lowered itself in stature by publishing work that is part of what they call an “anti-sugar” trend with “baiting-headlines” that trump “quality scientific research.”

They probably weren’t too happy that JAMA published commentary by leading food policy expert and NYU Professor Marion Nestle, either. Nestle’s most recent work examines the proposed soda tax and looks at the public health effects of the soda industry. Her years of research in food policy have taken a particular interest in industry-funded nutrition research, but yesterday’s news surprised even her.

Marion Nestle is one of the country's leading researchers on industry influence in nutritional research. Photo by Bill Haynes

“Even I was shocked by how blatant the relationship was between the sugar association and the researchers,” Nestle told GOOD. “Usually funders are not that involved in the actual research, or shouldn’t be. Or maybe we just don’t know about it. We do know that it occurs, as demonstrated by the New York Times article last year on Coca-Cola’s cozy relationships with researchers in the Global Energy Balance Network. E-mails revealed similar pressures.”

Nestle says that she hopes this will remind journals to diligently require funding disclosures, and that government advisory committees start taking funding into serious consideration when evaluating research. But despite the Sugar Association’s previous threats to sue her, Nestle isn’t anti-sugar.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Funders are not that involved in the actual research, or shouldn’t be. Or maybe we just don’t know about it.[/quote]

“I’m not particularly fond of what I view as a self-serving organization, but I am on record as loving sugar and sweet foods,” she jokes.

It should be noted that sugar isn’t poison, as long as it’s consumed in moderation; the World Health Organization recommends that sugar make up no more than 10% of our daily calories, which Nestle calls “quite reasonable and hardly abstemious.”

Just like fat, sugar isn’t all good or all bad. We need both to survive, but Kearns’s report shows just how much more transparency is needed in the research on potentially harmful nutrients like sugar and fat. Clearly, too much of a good thing can quickly turn deadly.

Food
via David Leavitt / Twitter

Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows that the worst thing about the job, right after the pay, are the unreasonable cheapskates who "want to talk to your manager" to get some money off an item.

They think that throwing a tantrum will save them a few bucks and don't care if they completely embarrass themselves in the process. Sometimes that involves belittling the poor employee who's just trying to get through their day with an ounce of dignity.

Twitter is rallying around a gal named Tori who works at a Target in Massachusetts after she was tweet-shamed by irate chapekate, journalist, and Twitter troll, David Leavitt.

Keep Reading
Business

Childbirth is the number one reason American women visit the hospital, and it ain't cheap. In fact, it's getting more and more expensive. A new study published in Health Affairs found that the cost of having a baby with employer-sponsored health insurance increased by almost 50% in the past seven years.

The study evaluated "trends in cost-sharing for maternity care for women with employer-based health insurance plans, before and after the Affordable Care Act," which was signed into law in 2010. The study looked at over 657,061 women enrolled in large employer-sponsored health insurance plans who delivered babies between 2008 and 2015, as these plans tend to cover more than plans purchased by small businesses or individuals.

Keep Reading
Health

A meteorite crashed into Earth nearly 800,000 years ago. The meteor was 1.2 miles wide, and the impact was so big, it covered 10% of the planet with debris. However, scientists haven't been able to find the impact site for over a century. That is, until now. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal believes the crash site has been located.

Tektites, which are essentially rocks that have been liquefied from the heat of the impact and then cooled to form glass, help scientists spot the original impact site of a meteor. Upon impact, melted material is thrown into the atmosphere, then falls back to the ground. Even if the original crater has disappeared due to erosion or is hidden by a shift in tectonic plates, tektites give the spot away. Tektites between 750,000 to 35.5 million years old have been found in every continent except Antarctica.

Keep Reading