Sugar industry withheld evidence of health effects nearly 50 years ago

Much independent research in recent decades has proven that excessive consumption of sugar – which is still very high in Israel – promotes obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

November 21, 2017 21:37
2 minute read.
A diabetic has his blood sugar level measured in downtown.

A diabetic has his blood sugar level measured in downtown.. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The US Sugar Research Foundation – an American sugar industry trade group – apparently withheld a study nearly half a century ago that found evidence in animals that the consumption of sucrose (common sugar) caused disease. This manipulation of science was disclosed in a research article just published in the prestigious open-access journal PLoS Biology.

Much independent research in recent decades has proven that excessive consumption of sugar – which is still very high in Israel and many other countries – promotes obesity, heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and that it should be reduced significantly in everyone’s diet. Increased public and government awareness has led to a reduction of sugar content in many food products, resulting in lower sales of sugar.

University of California at San Francisco researchers Cristin Kearns, Dorie Apollonio and Stanton Glantz reviewed internal sugar industry documents and discovered that the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) funded animal research to evaluate sucrose’s effects on cardiovascular health. They discovered that when the evidence seemed to indicate that sugar might be associated with heart disease and bladder cancer, the foundation terminated the project without publishing the results.

In a previous analysis of the documents, Kearns and Glantz found that the SRF had secretly funded a 1967 review article that downplayed evidence linking sugar consumption to coronary heart disease. The article noted that digestive microbes may provide evidence as to why rats fed sugar had higher cholesterol levels than those fed starch, but dismissed the relevance of animal studies to understanding human disease.

In the 1960s, scientists disagreed over whether sugar could elevate triglycerides relative to starch, and Project 259 would have bolstered the case that it could, the authors argue.

What’s more, terminating Project 259 echoed the SRF’s earlier efforts to downplay sugar’s role in cardiovascular disease.

The results suggest that the current debate on the relative effects of sugar vs. starch may be rooted in more than 60 years of industry manipulation of scientific research. Last year, the ISRF criticized a mouse study suggesting a link between sugar and increased tumor growth and metastasis, saying that “no credible link between ingested sugars and cancer has been established.”

Prof. Itamar Raz, head of the Israel National Diabetes Council and a leading member of a government task force established to improve the Israeli diet and fight overweight and obesity, said: “According to scientific ethics, when you do research on animals or humans, you must publicize whatever you discover, especially if you find something causes harm. It is very worrisome that this research was hidden. PLoS is a very important journal, and its findings can be trusted.”

Raz noted that he was not surprised by the revelation about the sugar industry, as it had a lot to lose by publication.

“In the world of scientific research, there have been researchers who invented results,” he said.

“There were cola manufacturers who received funding grants from the sugar industry. Phony results can be discovered when other scientists study the research and are unable to duplicate the results.”

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