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NewsBites December 2016 Issue

Sugar Industry Tilted Heart Blame to Fat

Recently discovered internal documents from the 1960s reveal that the sugar industry paid scientists to play down the cardiovascular risks of sugar consumption and instead blame saturated fat. The Sugar Research Foundation, now known as the Sugar Association, paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a 1967 review of the evidence on diet and heart disease. Published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine, the review relied on studies handpicked by the sugar industry. The paper, reviewed by the sugar group in draft form, minimized associations between sugar intake and heart disease and emphasized the dangers of saturated fat. It concluded there was "no doubt" that the only dietary intervention required to prevent coronary heart disease was to reduce dietary cholesterol and substitute polyunsaturated fat for saturated fat.

"The literature review helped shape not only public opinion on what causes heart problems but also the scientific community’s view of how to evaluate dietary risk factors for heart disease,” said Cristin Kearns, who discovered the 340 industry documents and wrote about them in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The documents also showed that the trade organization recognized as early as 1954 that if Americans adopted low-fat diets, then per-capita consumption of sugar would increase by more than one-third.

One of the scientists involved, D. Mark Hegsted, PhD, went on to lead the USDA's efforts to develop dietary guidelines (originally termed "dietary goals") for Americans. Those guidelines read, however: "Reduce sugar consumption by about 40%, to account for about 15% of total energy intake."

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