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Sugar Industry Influenced Dietary “Science” in ’60s. To What End?

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In 1973 and again in 1980, the Final Report(s) to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of the Select Committee on GRAS Substances (“Generally Referred to As Safe”) concluded that sucrose or cane sugar – table sugar – deserved a “class 2” SCOGS rating: “There is no evidence in the available information on [substance (sugar)] that demonstrates a hazard to the public when it is used at levels that are now current and in the manner now practiced. However, it is not possible to determine, without additional data, whether a significant increase in consumption would constitute a dietary hazard.” (U.S. Food and Drug Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 10903 New Hampshire Avenue, Silver Spring, MD, 20993)  Of course, the SCOGS conclusion predated soft-drinks being supersized and the fast food boom pumping a whole lot of sugar into Americans’ daily diets. This was before most school children were permitted to purchase soft-drinks from machines in their schools instead of milk or apple juice.

Ruth Winter’s A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, says sugar is “A sweetening agent and food, a starting agent in fermentation production, a preservative and antioxidant in pharmacy, a demulcent and a substitute for glycerin.  Table sugar can stimulate the production of fat in the body…” (A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, c. 1989, Ruth Winter, MS, Crown Publishers Inc., New York.) Apart from the good things sugar does, such as sweetening foods and beverages and aiding fermentation, we now know it has some deleterious effects on the body when too much is consumed over a long period of time.  Which is pretty much what most of America does.

Leighton Steward, Morrison C. Bethea, MD, Sam S. Andrews, MD, and Luis A Balart, MD, wrote a New York Times Bestseller called, Sugar Busters! (Sugar Busters!, c. 1998, Ballantine Books, New York) in which they drew attention to the fact that Americans consumed an average of 149.2 pounds of refined sugar per year, up from 124.6 pounds in 1980.  The premise of the book is that our sugar consumption has probably contributed to the increasing incidence of obesity and diagnosed diabetes in the United States.  (See Figure 6, p. 81).

In 2014, The Obesity Society announced the results of a study which, “…details an increase in added sugars consumed by American adults by more than 30% (228 calories per day in 1977 to 300 calories in 2009-2010). During that same time period, calories from added sugars consumed by children increased by approximately 20% (277 to 329 calories per day).(U.S. Consumption of Added Sugars Increased by 30% Over Three Decades”, )

Interestingly, the American sugar story goes back a few years, drawing some interesting parallels to the tobacco story.  In the late 1960s, what the group now known as the Sugar Association wanted the American public to believe about sugar, one could say was sugar-coated by the industry’s self-funded scientific studies, inspired by its desire to continue to sell sugar-containing foods and beverages, and to down-play the results of consuming too much sugar. T An Associated Press article, “ Study Shows Sugar Industry’s Attempt to Shape Public Understanding of Nutrition”, noted that in order to draw attention away from sugar’s damaging effects, the sugar industry pointed fingers at Americans’ consumption of fats in their diets, touting fat (in the form of cholesterol) in foods as the primary cause of heart disease. The article points out that the Sugar-industry’s funded 1967 scientific study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, performed by Harvard scientists, concluded “there was no doubt that reducing dietary cholesterol and saturated fat was the only dietary intervention needed to prevent heart disease.” The AP article also stated that disclosure of the industry’s role in funding scientific studies was not required at that time by the Journal, not until 1984.

“In an editorial published Monday that accompanied the sugar industry analysis, New York University professor of nutrition Marion Nestle noted that for decades after the study, scientists and health officials focused on reducing saturated fat, not sugar, to prevent heart disease.

While scientists are still working to understand links between diet and heart disease, concern has shifted in recent years to sugars and away from fat, Nestle said.”  (www.LATimes.com, 09-12-16)

In their history of refined sugar, the authors of Sugar Busters! noted that “Pro-sugar lobbying by sugar growers, cola manufacturers, and the packaged-food industry has been very effective in influencing our government.” (Sugar Busters!, p. 21). Once again, an industry’s public relations efforts have put a powerfully different spin on the effects of their product (somewhat reminiscent of the Tobacco Industry), in this case, sugar, shining the light of public attention toward what was eventually perceived as common knowledge by the public and the medical community, alike. The sugar industry created a new villain: The levels of fat in one’s diet causing heart disease has become a recurring theme of annual check-ups and physicians’ prescriptions for cholesterol lowering medications from the late 1960s, to date!   And, incredibly, we now know that all fat is bad (trans fats are bad), and that we in fact need some fat in our diet.  Good fats come mainly from vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fish.  But fat is not the demon once thought.   The jury is out on sugar, but the evidence against it seems to be mounting.

 

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  2. David Brown says:
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    Excerpt from above article:
    University professor of nutrition Marion Nestle noted that for decades after the study, scientists and health officials focused on reducing saturated fat, not sugar, to prevent heart disease. “While scientists are still working to understand links between diet and heart disease, concern has shifted in recent years to sugars and away from fat,” Nestle said.

    One wonders why, after all these years of research, the scientific community does not understand links between diet and heart disease. Perhaps it is because most scientists pay more attention to the opinions of thought leaders than to the science itself. Google – “S. L. Malhotra BMJ AJCN” to access articles published in 1967 by a researcher who had a pretty good idea as to which sorts of fat are problematic for heart health.