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Times Of India
Funded Study To Play Down Risk To Heart
The sugar industry paid scintists in the 1960s to play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead, newly released historical documents show. The internal sugar industry documents, recently discovered by a researcher at the university of Calfornia, San Fransisco (UCSF), and published on Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease, including many of today's dietary recommendations, may have been largely shaped by the sugar industry.
"They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades," said Stanton Glantz of UCSF. The documents show that a trade group called Sugar Research Foundation, known today as Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the quivalent of $49,000 in today's dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease.
The studies used in the review were handpicked by the group, and the article, published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, minimised the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.
Even though the influence- peddling revealed in the documents dates back nearly 50 years, more recent reports show that the food industry has continued to influence nutrition science.
Last year, an NYT article revealed that Coca-Cola had provided millions of dollars in funding to researchers whosought to play down the link between sugary drinks and obesity. In June, AP reported that candy makers were funding studies that claimed children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who do not.
The Harvard scientists and the sugar executives with whom they collaborated are no longer alive. One of the scientists was D Mark Hegsted, who went on to become the head of nutrition at US department of agriculture. Another was Dr Frederick J Stare, the chairman of Harvard's nutrition department.
In response to the JAMA report, Sugar Association said that the 1967 review was published at a time when medical journals did not typically require researchers to disclose funding sources. The industry "should have exercised greater transperancy in its research activities", the association said. Even so, it defended industry-funded research as important. It said decades of research had concluded that sugar "does not have a unique role in heart disease".
The relevations are important because the debate about the relative harms of sugar and saturated fat continues today, Glantz said. For many decades, health officials encouraged Americans to reduce their fat intake, which led many people to consume low- fat, high sugar foods that some experts now blame for fueling the obesity crisis.
Hegsted used his research to influence the US government's dietary recommendations, which emphasised saturated fat as a driver of heart disease while largely characterising sugar as empty calories linked to tooth decay. The fat warnings remain a cornerstone of dietary guidelines in the US. NYT NEWS SERVICE