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How The Sugar Industry Lied To Consumers For Decades

by Kristina Vakhman

Over the course of thousands of years, sugar has become so prevalent in cuisine that it is practically unheard of for a meal to end without the inclusion of dessert.

For an ingredient to be that pervasive and that commonly ingested by millions of people in the United States, it is alarming how understated sugar’s harmful effects are towards the public. Now, with the help of documents recently unearthed by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, it is easy to see why these sickly sweet consequences have been so downplayed.

The documents—described in a report by the Public Library of Science (PLOS) Biology published on Tuesday, Nov. 21—detail how, in 1968, the plug was pulled on a research endeavour titled “Project 259.” The sugar industry, which had long claimed that there was no connection between sugar and heart health, funded the undertaking to have evidence to support the industry’s stance. Lab rats were accordingly fed a high-sucrose diet.

However, when the research began to show sugar was indeed the culprit, with the rats’ triglyceride levels found to have skyrocketed—in humans, high triglyceride levels raise the potential for heart attacks and strokes—as well as with the discovery that there was a possible link between sugar consumption and an enzyme related to bladder cancer, the industry scrapped “Project 259” and buried the results.

The alleged cover-up was not just to hide the fact that sugar could cause cardiovascular complications. “Project 259” and its findings disappeared in the middle of a 1960s debate over whether sugar or fat was the root of other health crises like obesity and other types of cancers.

The sugar industry scrambled to fund research projects with end results that pointed the finger at fat, including one led by industry-paid Harvard University scientists that concluded there was “no doubt” reducing cholesterol and saturated fat would improve the country’s health, according to a 2016 investigation published by the Journal of the American Medical Association Internal Medicine.

What followed were aggressively misleading marketing campaigns. Foods low in fat and high in sugars rose in popularity and the findings of scientists like John Yudkin, who warned the public about sugar in books like “Pure White and Deadly,” were subdued and denounced.

Rather than combating obesity, the rise in sugar welcomed the disease’s rampancy. Today, “more than one in three adults and one in six children [ages 2-19] are obese,” as written in an annual The State of Obesity report by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Additionally, a PLOS Medicine 2015 exploration found that when the National Institute of Dental Research launched a study into what caused the country’s widespread issue with tooth decay in 1966, the sugar industry intervened, sharply turning the research into the direction of finding a method for treating dental plaque and interfering with federal guidelines for oral care.

Also, when the National Caries Program attempted to audit sugar’s involvement with tooth decay in the 1970s, the industry prevented it; the PLOS report states that “the NCP was a missed opportunity to develop a scientific understanding of how to restrict sugar consumption to prevent tooth decay.”

Presently, tooth decay “is the single most common chronic childhood disease” because of exposure to sugary liquids like formula and fruit juice,” according to the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry.

Though the sugar industry vehemently denies any sort of manipulation, evidence suggests otherwise. Campaign after campaign and study after study have been pushed at consumers to delude the perception of sugar’s harmful effects, courtesy of it’s parent industry.

To this day, Americans count calories and fat intake instead of looking at how many grams of sugar are in the food they eat on a regular basis.