Since the 1960s, one piece of dietary advice has dominated the nutrition conversation: fat is the cause of several serious health issues, but it’s the biggest factor in coronary disease.
However, recent findings of an internal study conducted this month by the American Medical Association reveal that the ‘fat is to blame’ perspective stems from the sugar community. A group of researchers unearthed proof that the Sugar Research Foundation funded a 1967 study to downplay the damaging effects of sugar.
The article posted in JAMA (Journal of American Medical Association) uses internal documents to confirm that the SRF paid for a review of pre-existing literature in the New England Journal of Medicine which “singled out fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of CHD and downplayed evidence that sucrose consumption was also a risk factor.” The sugar industry did this as an effort to “refute” claims that sucrose is damaging to the heart. Documents analysed in the article suggest that the sugar industry was attempting to influence scientific debate.
No mention was ever made in the finished article that SRF were involved.
In the decades since, the Western medical community has developed an entire treatment matrix based around the ‘science’ that backed up those claims. “It was a very smart thing the sugar industry did, because review papers, especially if you get them published in a very prominent journal, tend to shape the overall scientific discussion,” one of the paper’s co-authors Stanton Glantz told The New York Times.
The individuals involved in that earlier study had a fixed agenda influenced by their financial supporters — the SRF paid $50,000 for the research. In a recent interview, Cristin Kearns who contributed to this recent JAMA study says that “the authors applied a different standard” when it came to analysing sugar and fat research. They disregarded all research that implicated sugar as damaging by stating that there were methodology problems with the studies. But the studies they included which implicated fat also displayed similar issues.
Many other documents from the time show the struggles of the SRF as they sought to get a leg up on the competition. During a 1954 speech, the SRF president said that if Americans could be convinced to consume a low-fat diet then they would have to replace that fat with something else: sugar.
Despite the existence of studies proving that sugar isn’t the best carbohydrate replacement for fat, the SRF research director said in a document that they should simply fund their own studies, because “then we can publish the data and refute our detractors.” That study took years to reach publication – the best part of a decade – and all for one simple reason: an increasing number of studies emerged linking sugar to heart disease. SRF needed more time to cherry pick their research sources to reinforce their argument that actually sugar is much better for you than fat.
While it’s since been confirmed that SRF was behind the study, there’s no evidence that they actually edited the manuscript, and only “circumstantial” evidence exists to support claims that the interests of the sugar lobby influenced the conclusions. One piece of that evidence is correspondence from Hickson to one of his subsidised researchers upon reading the final review: “Let me assure you this is quite what we had in mind and we look forward to its appearance in print.”
The printed study completely changed the face of medicine. It diverted future research efforts from the real problem (sugar) and toward the fake problem (fat). This move has, as a result, cost untold numbers of people their health and their lives. The sugar industry profited enormously from this false research. Unsurprisingly, the JAMA team has a recommendation for the future: “Policymaking committees should consider giving less weight to food industry-funded studies.”
The amount of research showing the positive effects of fat on heart health is already on the rise. This year alone we’ve seen:
- Butter take the cover of Time magazine as more and more studies (not funded by the food industry) are showing NO LINK between fat and heart disease.
- Full-fat dairy proven to lower diabetes risk
Whereas on the sugar side:
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