Journal article

Food industry funding of nutrition research: the relevance of history for current debates

Medicine Biology research Research institutes Research management Food industry and trade Diseases

Industry-sponsored nutrition research, like that of research sponsored by the tobacco, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries, almost invariably produces results that confirm the benefits or lack of harm of the sponsor’s products, even when independently sponsored research comes to opposite conclusions. Although considerable evidence demonstrates that those industries deliberately influenced the design, results, and interpretation of the studies they paid for, much less is known about the influence of food-company sponsorship on nutrition research. Typically, the disclosure statements of sponsored nutrition studies state that the funder had no role in their design, conduct, interpretation, writing, or publication. Without a “smoking gun” it is difficult to prove otherwise.

This article reports on having found a smoking gun. From a deep dive into archival documents from the 1950s and 1960s, they have produced compelling evidence that a sugar trade association not only paid for but also initiated and influenced research expressly to exonerate sugar as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease (CHD). Although studies at that time indicated a relationship between high-sugar diets and CHD risk, the sugar association preferred scientists and policymakers to focus on the role of dietary fat and cholesterol. The association paid the equivalent of more than $48 000 in today’s dollars to 3 nutrition professors—at Harvard no less—to publish a research review that would refute evidence linking sugars to CHD.

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