As consumers, we rely on scientific research to provide updated and factual evidence on nutrition choices that can both help and harm our body. However, with the funding and influence of food companies on research, it’s important to use discretion and scrutinize data before taking it at face value. Unfortunately, research studies can be manipulated and distorted in many different ways. If you follow the money to the funding source, it can be easy to ascertain who is benefitting from the conclusions presented.
This can be seen in the influence the sugar industry has had on the development of nutrition guidelines. The JAMA Internal Medicine published a research article uncovering the role the sugar industry had on shaping policy related to nutritional guidelines impacting heart disease starting in the 1950’s. In an effort to protect the sugar trade association, scientific data was manipulated to indicate the primary culprit in the increase in heart disease among Americans was saturated fat.
Despite evidence that an increase in sugar consumption leads to an increase in triglycerides in the blood and thus to a greater risk of stroke, heart disease and heart attacks, this data was heavily de-emphasized. Furthermore, the Sugar Research Foundation funded a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine by leading Harvard nutrition professors denying the link between sugar and heart disease again making saturated fat the sole culprit.
This research has had a profound influence on the way American’s understand the impact of sugar on their body and the amount of sugar they are consuming. It has also shaped global nutrition policy with recommendations from the World Health Organization regarding sugar consumption lacking in the scientifically backed link between sugar and heart disease. The sugar industry continues to push back, disputing recent claims by the American Heart Association that children should be consuming no more than 6 teaspoons of sugar per day.
The sugar industry’s decades long influence on shaping nutrition policy is just one example of how food companies fund and manipulate research data to their benefit. Therefore, as healthy conscious consumers, it is imperative that no study be taken at face value and we seek to understand the motives and influencers behind the research presented.