A worldwide obesity crisis might have been averted had we known about sugar’s negative health effects sooner. As it turns out, the sugar industry researched and learned about these effects decades ago, but decided to keep them hidden and lobby against said effects.

Not as innocent as it looks: sugar is the main culprit behind the obesity pandemic. Image credits:
Kat Bruni.

‘Big sugar’

Back in the 1960s, the leading school of thought was that fat is the main culprit for obesity, heart disease, and cancer. But another theory was starting to catch on — one that blamed sugar. The sugar industry downplayed this as much as possible, and in 1965, an industry group, the Sugar Research Foundation, carried out a review to assess the health effects of sugar. Now, a new investigation published in the journal PLOS Biology revealed that the sugar industry funded its own research project, but never disclosed the findings because it made them look bad. The study reads:

“In 1965, the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) secretly funded a review in the New England Journal of Medicine that discounted evidence linking sucrose consumption to blood lipid levels and hence coronary heart disease (CHD). SRF subsequently funded animal research to evaluate sucrose’s CHD risks.”

There were two unpublished studies, called Project 259, funded by sugar lobbyists in the late 1960s. Both were rat studies and involved feeding rats extra sugar and studying the health effects. Both studies, which were on the verge of linking sugar with bladder cancer and coronary heart disease, were stopped. Although the study authors asked to continue, all funding was stopped and the project was dropped.

“The sugar industry has maintained a very sophisticated program of manipulating scientific discussion around their product to steer discussion away from adverse health effects and to make it as easy as possible for them to continue their position that all calories are equal and there’s nothing particularly bad about sugar,” said Stanton A. Glantz of the University of California at San Francisco, one of the PLOS Biology study’s authors.

So for some 50 years, the sugar industry has known about these effects. Yet after a study last year found that mice on sugar-heavy diets were more likely to develop breast cancer, the Sugar Association – one of the biggest sugar lobbying groups in the US – called it “sensationalised.”  It’s the same kind of manipulation we’re used to seeing from the tobacco and fossil fuel industry. Similarly, Exxon, the world’s largest oil company, knew about the negative effect of fossil fuels on climate change since the 70s, but lied and continued to lobby nonetheless.

Sugar is now known the main culprit behind the obesity pandemic. Mankind needs to drastically cut its sugar input, be it in sweets or sodas — regardless of what the industry lobby says.

Journal Reference: Cristin E. Kearns, Dorie Apollonio, Stanton A. Glantz. Sugar industry sponsorship of germ-free rodent studies linking sucrose to hyperlipidemia and cancer: An historical analysis of internal documentshttps://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.2003460

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