The sugar industry got more than its money’s worth by funding studies that misled the public about how the sweetener affects your health.
Studies with financial ties to the sugar-sweetened beverage industry are much less likely than independent studies to find a link between sipping sugary drinks and developing obesity or diabetes, according to an Annals of Internal Medicine Report published Monday.
There’s nothing sweet about what sugar does to your body
Researchers reviewed 60 studies published between January 2001 and July 2016 that investigated consuming drinks with added sugar and these diseases. They also identified whether the reports were independently funded, or if they were backed by — or the authors had financial conflicts with — the sugar-sweetened beverage industry.
Every one of the 26 studies that found no connection between sugary drinks and diabetes or obesity were industry-funded. But of the 34 studies that did find a connection between sugar and illness, only one had ties to sugar-sweetened beverages.
“This industry seems to be manipulating contemporary scientific processes to create controversy and advance their business interests at the expense of the public’s health,” concluded the report. It noted the industry has fought recent sugar and soda taxes, federal nutrition guidelines and calls to put warning labels on sugary drinks by disputing the science against sweetened beverages.
The latest report comes a month after a JAMA Internal Medicine investigation found that the Sugar Research Foundation (known today as the Sugar Association) paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in the 1960s to publish sugarcoated research that blamed saturated fat and cholesterol for causing heart disease, and downplayed the role of sweeteners.
And PLOS Medicine reported last year that the sugar industry also influenced U.S. cavity research in the 1960s and 1970s by convincing government scientists to study ways of preventing cavities that didn’t involve cutting sweets.
Dr. Mark Hyman, director of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine and author of “The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet,” has long been skeptical about the sweet stuff.
“The sugar industry and soda companies are following the same playbook as the tobacco industry did trying to defend tobacco,” he told the News. “They subvert the science by financing scientists who are actually pushing their agenda and designing flawed trials that show there’s no harm. They sway public opinion, and they lobby politicians.”
He advised consumers confused about what research to believe to “follow the money.”
“If a bunch of Harvard scientists say one thing, and Coca-Cola says another thing, you should wonder about who the messenger is, and where the money to fund the study is coming from,” he said.
The American Beverage Association dismissed the Annals of Internal Medicine report in a statement that read: “This paper is the latest in a trend of pro-tax forces writing speculative opinion papers to influence voters a week before a vote on several ballot initiatives to tax beverages.”