A damning report released by the American Medical Association on Sunday, September 11 reveals how the sugar industry played a large role in covering up sugar’s negative health impacts. Penned by Cristin E. Kearns, the report details how the Sugar Research Foundation (SRG) helped isolate fat as the primary cause of heart disease.
During the 1950s, when coronary heart disease was growing increasingly common, SRF helped torpedo studies that showed sugar’s hand in the burgeoning health crisis. As Kearn remarks:
The industry sought to influence the scientific debate over the dietary causes of CHD in the 1950s and 1960s, a debate still reverberating in 2016. The industry would subsequently spend $600,000 ($5.3 million in 2016 dollars) to teach ‘people who had never had a course in biochemistry…that sugar is what keeps every human being alive and with energy to face our daily problems.
Indeed, looking back to the 60s and 70s, ads touted sugar’s health benefits as an energy-inducer. While that erroneous claim may no longer grace billboards, the long-lasting effects of the sugar industry’s obfuscation of the dietary risks posed by its cash crop are immense in magnitude. In the United States – second only to Mexico as the most obese nation on earth – added sugar pervades our foods, contributing to a number of pressing heath issues associated with obesity.
The sugar industry’s meddling didn’t end there. Industry interests also worked with the National Institute of Health to construct a dental health program for kids that precluded limiting sugar from daily diets. Sugar – of course – is the leading cause of cavities and tooth decay.
The insidious influence of commercial interests hostile to public health also spanned the Atlantic Ocean. An early whistleblower who correctly identified the risks posed by sugar, John Yudkin was a British professor who composed a prescient book that made headlines at the time but that ultimately led to his marginalization within the field. “If only a small fraction of what we know about the effects of sugar,” Yudkin wrote, “were to be revealed in relation to any other material used as a food additive, that material would promptly be banned.”
Working with government nutritionists, the sugar industry marginalized Yudkin’s findings and – just as in the United States – accomplished this largely by underscoring fat’s role in heart-related ailments.
The sugar industry’s decades-long lobbying efforts are a haunting example of how a special interest can shape public perception. Both nonprofit organizations focused on the social good and social enterprises genuinely concerned with human progress need to take these examples to heart, turning away from duplicity and innovating healthy programs, products, and services that are pro-growth and pro-people and that do not require deceit in order to generate profit.