In the 1960s, an industry group called the Sugar Research Foundation funded research that suggested fat was the primary cause of heart disease and other health problems and not sugar. This, according to an article published in JAMA Internal Medicine which also suggests that this was not just a coincidence, but part of a larger strategy to shift blame away from sugar. The authors of the article claim that for decades, the sugar industry has been attempting to influence the scientific debate over the relative risks of sugar and fat. it was revealed that the SRF had paid scientists at Harvard University to write a review article that downplayed the link between sugar and heart disease.
The Sugar Association (which evolved out of the Sugar Research Foundation) says that it’s difficult to comment on events from so long ago. However, when a subsequent study linking sugar and heart disease made front-page news in the early 1970’s, the Sugar Association responded with a PR campaign that called into question the study’s methodology and accused its authors of bias. A few years later, when researchers suggested that eating saturated fat might contribute to heart disease, the same group went on the offensive again. This time, they funded their own studies that linked saturated fat with health problems like obesity and diabetes.
Critics claim that the food industry has been manipulating scientific research for years. In a 1992 editorial in The New York Times, nutritionist Marion Nestle wrote that “the sugar industry has a long history of manipulating scientific data.” She added that “it is hard to believe that the industry’s concern is anything other than profits. More recently, the New York Times obtained emails in 2015 revealing Coca-Cola maintained very close relationships with sponsored researchers who were conducting studies aimed at minimizing the effects of sugary drinks on obesity. Then, in 2016, the Associated Press obtained emails showing how a candy trade association funded and influenced studies to show that children who eat sweets have healthier body weights than those who do not.
If there is, or if there ever was, a sugar conspiracy against fats it is difficult to say whether it was successful or not. On the one hand, the effects of added sugar intake seem to be well documented and well known. These effects include higher blood pressure, inflammation, weight gain, diabetes, and fatty liver disease — all of which are linked to an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. On the other hand, sugar is highly addictive and Americans are eating more of it than ever. In fact, the average American adult consumes an average of 77 grams of added sugar per day, which adds up to about 60 pounds of added sugar each year.