Dietary advice and lobbyists: the case of sugar

As if dietary recommendations have not been debated enough.

Well, the news this week did not bring any relief.

An article published in JAMA Internal Medicine tells the story about Big Sugar lobbyists’ influence on dietary recommendations in the U.S. in the 1950s.

Put simply, some 50 years ago the sugar industry paid Harvard researchers to produce research results that downplayed the role of sucrose consumption in adding risk to coronary disease and singled out fat and cholesterol as the main culprits.

This “finding” had implications for decades to come.

So much has already been written about this news. I only feel like adding this:

Those working in the field of nutrition and public health (such as myself, in the role of an anthropologist), along with the whole scientific community, should welcome this news as a great whistleblowing act.

The key point here, in my opinion, is not what causes coronary disease and what doesn’t. Instead, the issue here is that of serious lack of transparency and misleading the public.

The wisest thing to do is to acknowledge the facts without any buts or ifs:

  • Yes, industry paid for researchers to produce certain types of results.
  • Yes, this might have had public health outcomes.
  • Yes, the public was consciously mislead.
  • Yes, this might still happen today.
  • No, it is probably not the last time we will read news like this.

Science is not perfect, its nature is to constantly evolve.

However, it is our responsibility to provide full disclosure and transparency. If our research receives external funding, which today can oftentimes be the case, may it be from the sugar industry, the beef industry, the dairy industry, the peach industry or the walnut industry, the readers are entitled to know about this.

Neither science nor public health should be the property of corporations.



All photos are from New York Public Library’s Digital Collection Open Access photos.

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