Revealed: How The Sugar Industry Paid Prestigious Harvard Researchers to Say Fat (Not Sugar) Caused Heart Disease
At the time, in the 1960s, conflict of interest disclosure was not required.
It meant sugar chiefs could work closely with researchers to re-draft and re-draft their paper until it was ‘satisfactory’ – without having to report their involvement.
The result shaped public health approaches to nutrition for years.
The findings, revealed today in a special report in JAMA Internal Medicine, has sent shockwaves through the research community.
‘I thought I had seen everything but this one floored me,’ said Marion Nestle of New York University, who wrote an editorial on the new findings.
‘It was so blatant. And the “bribe” was so big.’
‘Funding research is ethical,’ Nestle said.
‘Bribing researchers to produce the evidence you want is not.
The warped research appeared in a 1967 literature review in The New England Journal of Medicine.
It pointed to fat and cholesterol as the dietary culprits of heart disease, glossing over evidence from the 1950s that sugar was also linked to heart disease.
According to the new report, the NEJM review was sponsored by the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), which is today the Sugar Association.
Its role in the study was not disclosed until 1984.
Harvard professor of nutrition Dr Mark Hegsted co-directed the SRF’s first heart disease research project from 1965 to 1966.
In the new report, Laura A. Schmidt of the University of California, San Francisco and colleagues have uncovered correspondence that shows how Dr Hegsted was commissioned by the SRF to reach a specific conclusion.
Archives from the University of Illinois and the Harvard Medical Library reveal that the foundation set the objective for the literature review, funded it and reviewed drafts of the manuscript.
The researchers also reviewed symposium proceedings and historical reports.
In 1954, they say, foundation president Henry Haas gave a speech highlighting the potential of reducing American fat intake and recapturing those calories as carbohydrates that would increase the per capita consumption of sugar more than a third.
In 1962, an American Medical Association nutrition report indicated that low-fat high-sugar diets may actually encourage the development of cholesterol.
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