U.S. Dietary guidelines have long recommended that Americans limit their intake of fatty food to reduce risks for heart disease and other illnesses. Findings of a new review, however, revealed that the sugar industry may have played a role why high consumption of fats is considered as the primary driver of cardiovascular diseases.
A considerable amount of evidences now link added sugar in the diet to hypertension and cardiovascular disease, the top cause of premature death in developed countries. Warning signs about the link between sugar and heart disease though have already emerged as early as the 1950s.
In a study reported in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Sept. 12, researchers revealed how a sugar industry group downplayed the link between sugar and heart disease and shifted more of the blame on fat.
Researchers from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) found publicly available documents from the 1960s that show the trade group Sugar Research Foundation known today as the Sugar Association paid Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 today to produce a review of scientific literature on sugar, fat and heart disease.
The studies that were used in the review were chosen by the sugar group. The 1967 review, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine deemed saturated fat as the biggest cause for heart disease and minimized the link between sugar and heart health.
"Together with other recent analyses of sugar industry documents, our findings suggest the industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s that successfully cast doubt about the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in CHD," the researchers wrote in their study.
Another problem with the 1967 study is that its industry funding was not disclosed when it was published obscuring a significant bias. Still, it has impacted the health of millions of Americans.
The study led government agencies such as the U.S Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to structure dietary guidelines that recommend reducing fat and carbohydrates in the diet but left sugar relatively untouched.
"The literature review helped shape not only public opinion on what causes heart problems but also the scientific community's view of how to evaluate dietary risk factors for heart disease," said study researcher Cristin Kearns, from the UCSF who discovered the industry documents.
Similar industry practices persist today. Beverage company Coca-Cola, for instance, reportedly paid money to researchers to help cast its products in good light, which could potentially increase sales.