Sugar Industry Paid for OG Study Claiming Sugar Was OK -- & We're Paying for it Now

This month, the Journal of the American Medical Association published old papers proving that in the 1960s, the sugar industry paid off scientists to convince us all that sugar really wasn't that bad for us. It's simultaneously incredibly shocking and not shocking at all -- of course sugar is bad for us and of course the sugar industry has its own best interest at heart ... and of course they'd pay a lot of money to screw us all over. Alright, maybe it's not that shocking after all. But we're still kind of shocked.

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The thing is, we guess we kind of knew. We're at a point where we know to check scientists' credentials and follow up on where funding is coming from for studies, just like we know not to assume people in TV ads are doctors just because they're wearing white lab coats. We've learned that skepticism is essential when we're dealing with big business and big industry, and that's saved us a lot of heartbreak. 

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But this is 2016. In 1960, there were fewer resources for checking up on the information people delivered to us and there were fewer laws protecting consumers from misleading data. Today, the law requires that studies disclose where their funding is coming from, but in 1960, that law didn't exist yet ... which is how a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation (today the Sugar Association) got away with fooling the American public into thinking sugar wasn't a big health concern.

According documents found by a researcher from the University of California, San Francisco, the Sugar Research Foundation paid three Harvard scientists what would be $49,000 today to downplay the connection between sugar and heart disease, and to shift the blame onto saturated fat instead. The misdirection gave sugar another few decades to live a relatively unquestioned life, allowing the industry to make boatloads more money before researchers started looking into sugar's health risks.

It should probably go without saying that was no bueno for the American public, who developed an obesity problem not long after. An obesity problem that, if you ask some experts, was caused by the trend toward low-fat, high-sugar food that was popular after everyone was turned off of saturated fats.

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The tough thing to come to terms with is that generally, corporations and industries have buckets of spare money laying around, while research labs and scientific journals do not. But it costs buckets of money to fund studies, and studies are what drive knowledge and innovation. So we let Coca-Cola fund research about soda, even though we already know the study is going to say, "Hey! Maybe soda isn't so bad after all!" Which, you know, we'd be more inclined to believe if Coca-Cola didn't essentially pay someone to say that.

It's almost like scientific studies are the new advertising -- coordinated efforts to change a brand's PR. Or, as it may be, to make us believe saturated fat will be our downfall instead of sugar. 

What we're hearing is that we need to move toward public-funded scientific studies and away from industry-funded ones. And away from high-sugar diets. Both of those might be hard sells, but at the end of the day, it's for our health.

 

Image via qoppi/Shutterstock

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