Newly released historical documents reveal that the sugar industry paid scientists in the 1960’s to downplay the link between sugar consumption and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the cause, instead. 
JAMA Internal Medicine published an analysis of the internal sugar industry documents, which were uncovered by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), on September 12.
The papers suggest that 5 decades of research into the role of nutrition in heart disease was a deceptive narrative written by the sugar industry. And that research is imprinted in many of today’s dietary regulations.
Stanton Glantz, a professor of medicine at UCSF and an author of the new JAMA paper, said:
“They were able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades.”
How “They” Pulled it Off
A group called the Sugar Association in 1964 internally discussed a campaign aimed at addressing “negative attitudes toward sugar” after research linking sugar with heart disease began piling up, according to the documents. 
The following year, the Sugar Association approved “Project 226,” which involved paying Harvard researchers today’s equivalent of $48,900 for an article reviewing scientific literature hand-picked and provided by association executives. The group even received drafts of the review before it was published.
The Sugar Association-funded review highlighted studies linking saturated fat to heart disease, while excluding emerging science pinning the blame on sugar.
All of this culminated in the publication of a review in 1967 that concluded there was “no doubt” that preventing heart disease depended on reducing cholesterol and saturated fat, while the role of sugar was practically dismissed, the analysis shows.
A sugar industry group employee wrote to one of the review’s authors:
“Let me assure you this is quite what we had in mind and we look forward to its appearance in print.”
When the New England Journal of Medicine published the report, the sugar industry’s funding and role were not disclosed. The journal never asked for those details, and didn’t begin formally requesting them until 1984.
Neither the sugar executives nor the Harvard scientists who collaborated on the documents are alive anymore. 
However, one of those scientists who was paid by the sugar industry, D. Mark Hegsted, went on to become the head of nutrition at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), where he played a significant role in influencing the nutritional advice doctors give their patients.
In 1977, Hegsted helped draft the precursor to the federal government’s dietary guidelines. These guidelines framed saturated fats as a dietary evil, while sugar was presented as an empty-calorie food that caused cavities, at worst.
Another scientist, Frederick J. Stare, was the chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department.
In response to the documents’ release, the Sugar Association said, in part:
“We acknowledge that the Sugar Research Foundation should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities, however, when the studies in question were published funding disclosures and transparency standards were not the norm they are today. Beyond this, it is challenging for us to comment on events that allegedly occurred 60 years ago, and on documents we have never seen.” 
But the association – which now goes by the name SRF – also questioned the motives behind the paper, saying:
“Most concerning is the growing use of headline-baiting articles to trump quality scientific research. We’re disappointed to see a journal of JAMA’s stature being drawn to this trend.” 
Glantz defended the publication of the documents, saying it was necessary because, even after 50 years, the debate about the relative harms of sugar and saturated fat goes on. Many Americans have been encouraged to improve their health by eating less fat, which has led them to consume low-fat, high-sugar foods that many experts now say causes obesity, among other health issues.
“It was a very smart thing the sugar industry did because review papers, especially if you get them published in a very prominent journal, tend to shape the overall scientific discussion.”
Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University wrote in an editorial accompanying the report:
“I think it’s appalling. You just never see examples that are this blatant. The amount of money they were paid to do this is staggering.”
Biased Science Still Goes on Today
Industry executives are still using their influence to shape the way Americans eat and view health.
For example, Coca-Cola has spent millions of dollars funding researchers to try and squash the link between sugary beverages and obesity.
In June, The Associated Press revealed that candy makers were funding studies claiming that kids who eat candy weigh less than children who don’t.
Knowing what we know today, both ideas are ludicrous, but that doesn’t stop companies from trying to replace fact with fiction in the minds of consumers.
They’ll just never admit it.
The Sugar Association said:
“The Sugar Association is always seeking to further understand the role of sugar and health, but we rely on quality science and facts to drive our assertions.” 
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.