The Sordid Past of America's Sugar Lobby Sugar and Heart Disease – How Lobbyists Purchased Decades of U.S. Dietary Policy

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New Report Details the History of U.S. Sugar Policy

Many people have suspected that something was not quite right when it came to the role of sugar in the modern American diet. Carbohydrates make up a huge percentage of our diets, and for many people who eat from the industrial food supply – much of their carbohydrate intake comes from added sugar in processed foods.

A report that was published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association offers an explanation about how things came to be this way. The report’s authors dug up a lot of historical documents to put this information together, and the story they present is not encouraging. To sum it up quickly – the sugar industry bought off our most respected research institutions and our government. They have raked in billions of dollars in profits in the decades since the deception began – as Americans have watched rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease go through the roof.

Infographic: What Happened to Our Food? A Timeline

The History of Sugar and Heart Disease

There’s far too much information in the report to include here. If you want to read all the details, check out the reference links that are included at the bottom of this post. For everyone else, we’ll do a quick overview of the main points here.

The story starts in 1954 when Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) president Henry Hass gives a speech to sugar beet technologists entitled, “What’s New in Sugar Research.” In that speech, Hass proposed that the foundation should encourage Americans to cut their fat consumption by half, and then encourage them to replace the cut calories with sugar. The industry went along with the plan, and they spent $600,000 ($5.3M in 2016 dollars) to make it happen.

Not everyone was on board, however, and in 1957 a British physiologist named John Yudkin began publishing work that tied sugar – specifically fructose – to increased risks for coronary heart disease. This was especially problematic because the industry had used coronary heart disease as their primary justification for cutting our fat intake by half. This problem reached a peak in June of 1965 when Harvard faculty published a study that corroborated Yudkin’s research and confirmed that fructose intake was indeed tied to coronary heart disease.

Read more: Have You Eliminated Sugar from Your Diet?  Do You Want To?

The Empire Strikes Back

Within weeks of the 1965 publication, the SRF was present on the Harvard campus. They hired the study’s author, and another member of his staff, to conduct a review of all of the available literature around sugar and heart disease – with the understanding that they would be paid well to publish information that cast sugar in a favorable light and weakened the evidence of sugar’s link to cholesterol and heart disease.

The SRF was involved in the editing process for the new “research,” with multiple draft copies delivered to the SRF for review and commentary. The SRF provided written approval for the final paper before it was submitted for publication.

In 1967, the New England Journal of Medicine published the pro-sugar article as a two-part series, “Dietary Fats, Carbohydrates and Atherosclerotic Disease,” with 3 Harvard professors listed as the authors. The SRF’s funding and participation in the review process were not disclosed.

The new review series “discredited” the work of Yudkin and others who had shown a link between CHD and fructose, by stating that those studies contained “questionable data and incorrect interpretations.” The series concluded that there was “no doubt” that the correct approach to preventing coronary heart disease was to cut saturated fat intake in favor of polyunsaturated fat in the American diet. In other words, fat – not sugar – was to blame for rising rates of heart disease.

At the end of the day, the Harvard professors acted as scientific ‘hit men’ – accepting big checks in return for manipulating the objective truth of an entire body of research conducted by scientists from multiple universities – some of that research actually having been published by the ‘hit men’ themselves.

A Legacy of Deceit

USDA Food PyramidThe “definitive review” provided by the paid Harvard professors was never completely debunked… until now. When the first Dietary Guidelines for Americans was published in 1980 by the USDA and the Department of Health and Human Services, the recommendations focused on reducing fat, saturated fat, and dietary cholesterol to prevent coronary heart disease. No mention was made of sugar as a risk factor.

The misconception that sugar is not related to cholesterol or heart disease lasted for decades, and is still not dead today. Sugar did begin to receive some scrutiny from the Surgeon General in 1979, and it got that weird “USE SPARINGLY” spot at the top of the 1992 food pyramid. But the legacy of the “definitive review” that the sugar industry bought and paid for has certainly left its mark on our society.

The lesson here is that the next time you read about a “definitive study,” you better think twice about the source of the study, who funded it, and what their motives are. At the very least, take it with a grain of salt… or sugar.

Like I mentioned at the beginning of this article, many people have suspected that there were some shenanigans going on around sugar regulation, but this is the first time the actual history has been documented in print from primary sources. Are you at all surprised by this? Leave a comment down below and let me know what you think.

marjory-wildcraft-how-much-land-do-you-need


Sources:

1: Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research. Journal of the American Medical Association – Internal Medicine. http://archinte.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2548255#isc160005r31
2: Dietary Recommendations and How They Have Changed Over Time. USDA. http://www.ers.usda.gov/media/91022/aib750b_1_.pdf

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Michael Ford


Contributor

Michael has been the resident editor at The [Grow] Network since January 2015. Michael grew up in St. Louis, where he became a lover of nature - hiking and fishing his way through the Ozark hills in Missouri. He attended Baylor University in Waco, TX, and he currently lives in Austin. Michael has background experience in small-scale farming, commercial growing, vegetable gardening, landscaping, marketing, and software development. He received his Permaculture Design Certification from the Austin Permaculture Guild in 2013.


17 Comments
  • Eduff

    Sugar is the #1 reason there is so many diabetic which also leads to hypertension and heart disease and billions are spent every years for this and it’s covered up

  • Sybil Primrose

    It is good to see that some of the functions of ‘lobbyists’ and aalso $$$s are now being revealed.. One wonders when and how the power of the mighty $$$$$ will ever be broken, before not too long I hoppe.

  • Charlie

    I am not at all surprised to read this. There are far to many vested-interests, if not outright corruption, of corporate bodies doing their very best to hide the truth of what their products actually do to us.

    All we can reasonably do to counter it is to educate ourselves, performing due diligence on the data that is in the public domain and make our own minds up, whilst (as you say) taking it all with a grain of salt.

  • Larry Mac

    I, personally, am VERY surprised by this article. If you can’t trust a research paper with a name like Harvard on it, who and what does that leave?
    I guess that NO one is immune to the lure of big bucks, regardless of what the money does to your reputation. Maybe we should not allow big business, particularly BIG-AG, to get anywhere near our institutions of higher learning.

  • Janette

    I am not surprised either. Money in their pockets. After some really bad health issues, I finally did some real research and with advice from a valuable friend in the medical field, cut all sugar and almost all carbs completely from my diet. I have already lost 53 lbs. and still losing. My health issues are resolving themselves and have already had several medications cut in half and some issues gone altogether. My doctor looked at me just yesterday in her office, shook her head and said, “l’m green with jealousy!”

  • Bellen

    Robert Lustwig, M.D. – watch on Youtube “Sugar – the Bitter Truth” or any of his other presentations. Spells it out clearly for the layperson.

    Big corporations/big money has for many years corrupted research. We all need to check reputable sources, many of them, and make our own decisions.

    Also, ask questions of your doctors to see how well informed they are and if they buy into the corrupted research. My primary physician does not and I’m so thankful for that.

  • Another argument for eating fresh, local, whole foods and avoiding corporate products. Glad I grow my own as much as possible!

  • And on top of all, the sugar industry is highly subsidized by US Taxpayers to the tune of about $3 billion in 2012. See this link…https://www.aei.org/publication/protectionist-sugar-policy-cost-americans-3-billion-in-2012/

    So we are paying to make our people sick. Hmmm…

  • Ava

    Typo located second to last paragraph under “Empire Strikes Back”: you have “was not blame,” think it should read “was to blame.”

  • Pete

    A book named “Sugar Blues” sounded the alarm on this situation many years ago. Only since the web has this type of awareness become readily available to the public. It is more difficult now for Corporations to subvert this type of information as when this book was first published during the Cold War years. Nice work in keeping people aware of it!

  • Arlene

    For those of us less willing or able to attempt verification of published research, a good course simply might be to value Nature’s offerings. It would seem sensible to accept that we are omnivores, to consume a wide variety of foods, and to do so while they’re freshest or, at least, in a nicely preserved condition. This would allow for a fair amount of fat and salt, with some caution on the use of sugar. Then, if we stay active and avoid stress as possible, I think we will enjoy whatever health our genes will allow.

  • JJM

    Check out Bellen’s suggested YouTube. Long but very informative description of Sugar vs Health.

  • David Lee

    Look also who sponsors a lot American Dietetic Association. Coke, Pepsi, etc. etc.

  • Sherlynn Kerns

    I agree sugar is bad for you, but so is a lot of carbs. My feedback about this article is: Where are the facts (the statistics)?

  • Sue T

    I watched a video from a biochemist a few years ago. I may be the one listed above, I can’t remember, but he talked about the lie that high fructose corn syrup is the same as sugar. It biochemically processes differently and promotes storage of fat and cravings for more per his research. I eat too much sugar and that is on my list to decrease but I know it will take a little while to adjust. We already eat dairy (minimal), wheat and gluten free d/t allergies.

  • Michael Weisensee

    Please do not lump refined carbohydrates with the carbohydrates found in whole foods. When you do, you get people adopting “low-carb” diets avoiding health-promoting foods like whole fruits/veg. There has been only one nutritional strategy clinically proven to reverse many of our nation’s chronic, degenerative diseases (including our #1 killer — heart disease) that is a whole-food, plant-based diet. It is the gold standard and should be the default diet until proven otherwise. Visit nutritionfacts.org for the latest in nutritional science. It’s free and without corporate sponsorship (aka corruption).

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