How Industry Downplayed Sugar’s Impact on Heart Health in 1967 Study

White sugar in a tablespoon

New research has found the sugar industry has been fraudulently placing the blame on fats for heart disease ever since the mid-1960s. The latest study used a newly found letter exchange between Harvard University and an industry trade group.

According to the new document, Sugar Association tried to fix “negative attitudes towards sugar” in 1964. Apparently, several research papers showing a link between sugar intake and heart disease risk. spurred the “attitudes.”

So, in 1965, the trade group asked Harvard researchers to carry out a favorable review of those studies. In exchange, the group promised to pay researchers $48,900 for their work.

The Study is “Quite What We Had in Mind”

The resulting paper, which the team published two years later, removed sugar from the list of heart disease risk factors. In short, the study claimed that by lowering dietary cholesterol and saturated fats is enough to prevent heart conditions.

In other words, the research team focused mainly on studies pointing the finger at fats. And in the meantime, they ignored studies that found a link between sugar and heart disease. After the team submitted the study to the trade group, one employee wrote researchers back praising them for the results.

“Let me assure you this is quite what we had in mind and we look forward to its appearance in print,”

wrote the industry’s representative.

What’s more Harvard researchers failed to report any conflicts of interest when they published the paper in 1967. They may have an excuse since the New England Journal of Medicine began asking for author disclosures in the mid-1980s.

The Study is Still in Use

Co-author of the latest study Marion Nestle explained that the biased study is still used today. Reportedly, public health authorities base dietary guidelines for the general population on te study. For instance, because of the study, experts have recommended trimming fats from diet, not sugar, to have a healthy heart.

Nestle also noted that in recent years studies no longer vilify saturated fats and try to find other culprits such as bad carbs and sugar. Experts involved in drafting federal dietary guidelines recently said there was no “appreciable relationship” between cardiovascular risk and cholesterol.

Nevertheless, those experts also said that it is still a good idea to limit intake of saturated fats.

American Heart Association investigators now cite a two-year-old research paper when they advise against too much sugar intake. Still, AHA experts conceded that they need to conduct more research before final conclusions.

The latest analysis taking a look at the 1964 correspondence is part of a larger plan to expose the sugar industry’s strategies. Lead author Cristin Kearns has been monitoring the industry for decades as a dentist, suspecting that sugar may have negative health outcomes kept under the rug.

Study authors said they had access to a 31-page document showing a letter exchange between the trade group and one Harvard academic who co-authored the analysis.

The Sugar Association recently commented on the newly found link, arguing that in the 1960s there was no requirement to disclose the source of funding for a study. The group also slammed Kearns for describing all industry-funded studies as “tainted.”

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