One of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ main talking points when it comes to dismissing concerns about its ties to Big Food it that “the science” doesn’t appear to validate these concerns. Not surprisingly, the research the Academy points to tends to be funded by the food industry.
This reminded us of a great investigative report about the sugar industry published in Mother Jones last year (FYI: both The Sugar Association and the corn Refiners Association have booths at the annual Academy conference).
- “The [sugar] industry followed a similar strategy when it came to diabetes. By 1973, links between sugar, diabetes, and heart disease were sufficiently troubling that Sen. George McGovern of South Dakota convened a hearing of his Select Committee on Nutrition and Human Needs to address the issue. An international panel of experts—including Yudkin and Walter Mertz, head of the Human Nutrition Institute at the Department of Agriculture—testified that variations in sugar consumption were the best explanation for the differences in diabetes rates between populations, and that research by the USDA and others supported the notion that eating too much sugar promotes dramatic population-wide increases in the disease. One panelist, South African diabetes specialist George Campbell, suggested that anything more than 70 pounds per person per year—about half of what is sold in America today—would spark epidemics.”
- In the face of such hostile news from independent scientists, the ISRF hosted its own conference the following March, focusing exclusively on the work of researchers who were skeptical of a sugar/diabetes connection. “All those present agreed that a large amount of research is still necessary before a firm conclusion can be arrived at,” according to a conference review published in a prominent diabetes journal. In 1975, the foundation reconvened in Montreal to discuss research priorities with its consulting scientists. Sales were sinking, Tatem reminded the gathered sugar execs, and a major factor was “the impact of consumer advocates who link sugar consumption with certain diseases.”
- “Rather than do definitive research to learn the truth about its product, good or bad, the association stuck to a PR scheme designed to “establish with the broadest possible audience—virtually everyone is a consumer—the safety of sugar as a food.” One of its first acts was to establish a Food & Nutrition Advisory Council consisting of a half-dozen physicians and two dentists willing to defend sugar’s place in a healthy diet, and set aside roughly $60,000 per year (more than $220,000 today) to cover its cost.”
- “In recent years the scientific tide has begun to turn against sugar. Despite the industry’s best efforts, researchers and public health authorities have come to accept that the primary risk factor for both heart disease and type 2 diabetes is a condition called metabolic syndrome, which now affects more than 75 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Metabolic syndrome is characterized by a cluster of abnormalities—some of which Yudkin and others associated with sugar almost 50 years ago—including weight gain, increased insulin levels, and elevated triglycerides. It also has been linked to cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.”
- “Newer studies from the University of California-Davis have even reported that LDL cholesterol, the classic risk factor for heart disease, can be raised significantly in just two weeks by drinking sugary beverages at a rate well within the upper range of what Americans consume—four 12-ounce glasses a day of beverages like soda, Snapple, or Red Bull. The result is a new wave of researchers coming out publicly against Big Sugar.”
What is especially troubling is that this type of newer research isn’t likely to ever be given the green light for a presentation at the Academy’s conference (FNCE). History has shown that anything deemed even remotely controversial or not aligned with Big Food’s talking points is presented as a point-counterpoint panel, rather than a presentation.