In what should be a bombshell report (though that remains to be seen), researchers at the University of California, San Francisco announced their findings that the sugar industry paid scientists to downplay the harmful effects of sugar on the heart, in favor of a focus on saturated fat and cholesterol.
An analysis of documents from the 1960s revealed that trade industry organization the Sugar Research Foundation (which is still around today, as the Sugar Association) paid researchers at Harvard the equivalent of $50,000 in today’s dollars for a research analysis that shifted the blame for heart disease. Industry insiders then shaped the resulting report by selecting which articles should be included and reviewing drafts prior to publication.
Reportedly, industry analysis suggested that Americans who cut fat from their diets were likely to increase sugar consumption by about 30 percent. The Harvard scientists, one of whom also served on the Sugar Research Foundation’s advisory board, criticized earlier studies that had linked sugar to heart disease.
What followed were decades of increasing obesity, heart disease, and diabetes rates. To this day, many Americans continue to believe long-dispelled myths like “you can’t get fat if you don’t eat fat,” or that eating cholesterol will cause cholesterol problems. Dr. Cristin Kearns, who headed the team that discovered the payoff, places blame for decades of bad nutrition science on this Harvard review.
The Sugar Association does not deny their role; instead, in a statement, they admit that they should have exercised greater transparency, but point out that standards were different 60 years ago. No word yet on whether that’s a comfort to the 100+ million Americans with diabetes or prediabetes, or the 17% of American children with obesity.