Hundreds of thousands of years ago, we craved energy-dense foods packed with salts, fats, and sugars because they ensured our survival. Nowadays, those in wealthy nations have easy access to a cornucopia of treats, and it’s one of the driving causes of obesity, itself linked to a plethora of health afflictions.
The US government has only recently updated its health guidelines to advise people to cut out a lot of sugar from their diets, but as highlighted in two recent studies, the sugar industry has been aware of its dangers for at least half a century.
“The sugar industry did not disclose evidence of harm from animal studies that would have (1) strengthened the case that the coronary heart disease risk of sucrose is greater than starch and (2) caused sucrose to be scrutinized as a potential carcinogen,” the latest paper concludes.
Today, the trade association for the sugar industry in the US is known as the Sugar Association, but back in the 1960s, it was the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF). Researchers from the University of California at San Francisco have been digging through old records and, over the last few years, have uncovered evidence of a cover-up by the SRF of their own research that put them in a bad light.
As reported last year in JAMA Internal Medicine, the first study, funded by the SRF in secret, was published back in 1967. Using statistical techniques that reviewers would now say heavily biased the data, the paper discounted evidence linking sugar consumption to the levels of lipids (fats) within the blood – which in turn was linked to heart disease.
This study happened to appear at a time when that exact link was being debated by scientists across the world, and it sought to muddy the waters. The link today is absolutely clear and uncontroversial.
As has just been revealed in PLOS Biology, a second peculiar research project has been found. Carried out between 1967 and 1971 under the name Project 259, the SRF was assessing how sugar intake affected the digestive systems of rats.
After finding that there was a link to bladder cancer, the SRF terminated the project’s funding shortly before it was due to be completed. The results were never published.