Hidden documents reveal how the sugar industry influenced public health policy in the ’60s and ’70s, suppressing important research into sugar consumption and tooth decay.

In the late ’60s and early ’70s, tooth decay was a big health problem. Research showed that refined sugars were largely to blame. Dentists urged their patients to consume less sugar and pushed for greater public awareness of the problem. But they were largely unsuccessful.

New research published in the journal PLOS Medicine reveals why. Three researchers – Cristin E. Kearns, Stanton A. Glantz, and Laura A. Schmidt – delved into an archive of industry papers from the University of Illinois and the National Institute of Dental Research. And in these long-buried documents they found a troubling story.

Silencing the truth about tooth decay

Dentists knew that sugar consumption was causing tooth decay, so they suggested that people reduce their sugar intake. This was, of course, bad news for the sugar companies, who did everything they could to silence them.

Their opposition took many forms. They funded research into a vaccine against tooth decay, threw money at research into enzymes that break up dental plaque, and quashed unfavorable research.

Eventually the government created a plan to combat tooth decay. But it was almost identical to a plan composed by the sugar industry, which of course did not recommend reducing sugar consumption. This wasn’t surprising; eight out of 11 members of the government’s committee were also members of the International Sugar Research Foundation, which is funded by the sugar industry.

Sugar companies: “Nothing has changed”

In recent years, sugar research has focused obesity and type 2 diabetes. Studies indicate that sugar consumption increases the risk of both conditions. Examples are endless. A study published in Diabetes Care[1] found that people who drank soda every day increased their risk of type 2 diabetes by 26 per cent. The researchers wrote that “in addition to weight gain, higher consumption of [sugar-sweetened beverages] is associated with development of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes.”

There’s evidence to suggest that nothing has changed, both in the US and elsewhere. In the UK, the British Medical Journal uncovered the “extraordinary extent to which key public health experts are involved with the sugar industry and related companies.”[2]

Sugar companies continue to oppose taxation on the sale of sodas, branding it “unconstitutional.” According to the Wall Street Journal, “The beverage industry has spent more than $100 million in the past five years to defeat soda-tax proposals across the U.S.”[3] For the most part, their efforts have been successful.

In 2014, the World Health Organisation recommended limiting the consumption of added sugars.[4] Similarly, the US Food and Drug Administration urged that added sugars be listed on food packaging.[5] The World Sugar Research Organisation, which represents sugar companies, has challenged all such proposals.[6]

“A warning to the public health community”

The authors of the study compared the actions of the sugar industry to those of the tobacco industry, writing: “Actions taken by the sugar industry to impact the NIDR’S NCP research priorities, which echo those of the tobacco industry, should be a warning to the public health community.”

In light of these findings, can we still trust public health policies? Or will you be wondering whose interests they really serve? Let us know what you think.

Source: http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001798


[1] http://care.diabetesjournals.org/content/33/11/2477.long

[2] http://www.bmj.com/content/350/bmj.h231

[3] http://www.wsj.com/articles/sugar-tax-would-shake-soda-makers-1414968565

[4] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-26449497

[5] http://www.fda.gov/Food/GuidanceRegulation/GuidanceDocumentsRegulatoryInformation/LabelingNutrition/ucm385663.htm

[6] http://asq.org/qualitynews/qnt/execute/displaySetup?newsID=18866