Imagine this. A commercial industry influencing corporate policy. Surely not in the United States. Newly revealed internal sugar industry documents show just how much sway the industry had over federal research.
In the US, tooth decay still remains a major health problem, despite being entirely preventable. The fix is clear. Cut back on your sugar intake. As soon as someone makes Krispy Kreme awesome without sugar, I’ll get right on that medical researchers.
The report is published in the latest issue of PLOS Medicine. Researchers revealed the sugar industry heavily influenced the US National Institute of Dental Research’s (NIDR) 1971 recommendations. How? By shifting the focus away from encouraging Americans to make dietary changes.
From 1959 to 1971, the NIDR was working to find the appropriate interventions to eradicate tooth decay within a decade. In 1967, an advisory council recommended dietary changes as a chief intervention.
By 1971, the NIDR had launched its National Caries Program, but it neglected to tell Americans to focus on their sugar intake, That’s the equivalent of your doctor telling you to exercise and eat healthy, but you can still smoke.
“It’s extremely shocking to see how closely NIDR [and the sugar industry] worked together, and how the research priorities between the two groups were so aligned to benefit the sugar industry,” says study author Cristin Kearns, a postdoctoral scholar at UCSF School of Medicine.
The Sugar Association has already released a statement to TIME. “It is challenging for the current Sugar Association staff to comment directly on documents and events that allegedly occurred before and during Richard Nixon’s presidency, given the staff has changed entirely since the 1970s. However, we are confused as to the relevance of attempts to dredge up history when decades of modern science has provided answers regarding the role of diet in the pathogenesis of dental caries… A combined approach of reducing the amount of time sugars and starches are in the mouth, drinking fluoridated water, and brushing and flossing teeth, is the most effective way to reduce dental caries.”
It’s awesome how the association throws Nixon in there. Everything in the early 70s can be explained away with ‘Nixon was in office.’
Sugar and Federal Research
The biggest question is, what happened? It’s all about the backroom deals. Two committees were formed, one by NIDR and the other by the International Sugar Research Foundation. Each held regular meetings to work on dental-health priorities.
Just one problem. The UCSF researchers noticed both committees were made up of the same people. Hello conflict of interest.
“The sugar industry was able to derail some promising research that probably would’ve been the foundation for regulation of sugar in food,” says study author Stanton A. Glantz.
This was at a point where sugar was already known to cause tooth decay. Yet, the sugar industry was able to convince the NIDR the value of sugar for nutrition.
In addition to the damning report on the 1971 guidelines, researchers claim major institutions are still influenced by the industry.
“Industry opposition to current policy proposals—including a WHO guideline on sugars proposed in 2014 and changes to the nutrition facts panel proposed in 2014 by the FDA—should be carefully scrutinized to ensure that industry interests do not supersede public health goals,” the study authors conclude in their paper.
Of course, parents could use commons sense today. You cannot sit back and think your kid downing a case of soda is good for their teeth. Or, general health. Healthy eating equals a healthy body. It boils down to that simple principle.