Monday, September 19, 2016

HEALTH - 'How to Sweeten Profits' by Sugar Industry

A 'Greed File'

"How the sugar industry paid experts to downplay health risks" PBS NewsHour 9/13/2016


SUMMARY:  Researchers have discovered documents showing that the sugar industry paid researchers to downplay the health risks of sugar and play up the risks of saturated fat in the 1960s.  Gwen Ifill speaks with Marion Nestle of New York University about the revelations, the health impacts of consuming sugar and the complexities of studying nutrition.

GWEN IFILL (NewsHour):  Now, how the sugar industry paid experts to downplay health risks.

Researchers have discovered documents showing the industry tried to influence scientific studies back in the 1960s.  Early studies had found a link between sugar and fat and heart disease, but it now appears that the sugar industry paid two Harvard professors to point the finger elsewhere.

At the time, it wasn't routine to disclose such conflicts.

Marion Nestle wrote an editorial about the latest research in “JAMA,” “The Journal of the American Medical Association.”  She's an author and professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University.

Welcome, Marion Nestle.

Let's start by a few…

MARION NESTLE, New York University:  Well, glad to be here.

GWEN IFILL:  Let's start with a few definitions.

What was the Sugar Research Foundation?

MARION NESTLE:  Well, this was a trade association for the growers of sugarcane and sugar beets.  It's now called the Sugar Association.  So it's a trade group.

Its job is to promote the sales of sugar and to lobby to make sure that nobody does anything regulatory to reduce the consumption of sugar.  It's a trade group.

GWEN IFILL:  So, yes.  So, when all the years when we were being told that fat and cholesterol were the prime culprits in obesity and early death and heart disease, it turns out that sugar also played a big role.

MARION NESTLE:  Well, it did.

If you look at the epidemiology, at the time, it was clear that both sugar and fat were risk factors for coronary artery disease.  But these investigators at Harvard who were paid by the Sugar Research Foundation kind of cherry-picked the data and minimized the problems with sugar and maximized the problems with saturated fat.  And that was exactly what the Sugar Association wanted them to do, as the documents show.

GWEN IFILL:  So, the goal here was to sway public opinion, in much the same way that the tobacco industry did?

MARION NESTLE:  Yes, it followed the playbook of the tobacco industry.

The number one playbook rule is, the first thing you do is you attack the science, you cast doubt on the science.  “Merchants of Doubt,” the book and the movie, explain all that.  And the Sugar Association was doing exactly that.

It was trying to get researchers to produce research that would minimize a role for sugar and shift the blame elsewhere.  And they were very frank about what they wanted, and the investigators agreed that was what they were going to do.  Pretty shocking.

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