Suppose that a prominent medical journal published a review paid for by Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods, and Monsanto, and partly authored by “a member of the scientific advisory board of Tate & Lyle, one of the world’s largest suppliers of high-fructose corn syrup” — which actually happened in 2016. What would a person expect that article to say? Well, if they guessed that it would say sugar is just fine and dandy, and all the unrealistically alarmist warnings against sugar are based on flimsy evidence — they would be correct.
As soon as Annals of Internal Medicine hit the streets, the backlash flared up, and plenty of health experts pointed out that the patron who put up the money for this “news,” the International Life Sciences Institute, was a very biased, partial, and subjective tool of the industry. For its part, the poor, misunderstood industry, especially the junk food contingent, claimed to only want the development of “trustworthy guidelines on sugar intake.”
This was all part of a larger strategy by which the industry endeavored to recruit as many bent academics as possible to volubly cheer for Team Sugar. Even way back in the 60s, the same deceptive voices had been hired to put a halo around sugar and cast all blame on saturated fat.
So in 2016, the effort was still going strong, when “the Associated Press reported in June that food companies paid for studies that claimed candy-eating children weigh less.” In its turn, the new shocking paper was characterized as “reminiscent of tactics once used by the tobacco industry, which for decades enlisted scientists to become ‘merchants of doubt’ about the health hazards of smoking.”
Dr. Dean Schillinger, internal medicine specialist at San Francisco General Hospital, accused the industry of “hijacking the scientific process in a disingenuous way to sow doubt and jeopardize public health.” Many other experts joined in the condemnation. Journalist Anahad O’Connor reported,
“This comes right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook: cast doubt on the science,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University who studies conflicts of interest in nutrition research. “This is a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion. It’s shameful.”
In the following year, California toughened up rules that had been in effect for a decade, against soft drinks and foods high in fat and sugar being available in school. Now, the education system also banned advertising for such products in any form, and tossed out some of the sneaky workarounds that the industry had devised to avoid the rules. Journalist Cameron St. Germain wrote,
[T]he bill includes restrictions on corporate incentive programs such as the Box Tops for Education program, which rewards schools for collecting box tops clipped from specially marked products. The products, however, tend to be processed foods like cereals, snack bars, cookies, frozen pizzas, and other foods full of added sugar, salt, and fat… As this type of program constitutes a type of in-school advertising, it has been banned as part of the new bill.
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Source: “Study Tied to Food Industry Tries to Discredit Sugar Guidelines,” NYTimes.com, 12/19/16
Source: “California Targets Childhood Obesity with New Advertisement Regulations,” NYCFoodPolicy.org, 11/21/17
Images by Ricardo Liberato, Sage Ross, Aidan Jones/CC BY-SA 2.0