Researchers with the University of California, San Francisco, including its Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, published a September 12, 2016, JAMA article claiming that studies funded by the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) “singled out fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of CHD [coronary heart disease] and downplayed evidence that sucrose consumption was also a risk factor.”

Titled “Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents,” the special commu- nication analyzes correspondence, internal documents, historical reports, and other statements obtained from SRF and its scientific advisors.

The article authors allege that SRF initiated its own CHD research in 1962, after preliminary studies suggested that a low-fat diet high in sugar raises serum cholesterol levels. To this end, the SRF purportedly funded a New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) literature review “arguing that epidemiologic, animal, and mechanistic studies associating sucrose with CHD were limited, implying they should not be included in an evidentiary assessment of the CHD risks of sucrose.”

“Following the NEJM review, the sugar industry continued to fund research on CHD and other chronic diseases ‘as a main prop of the industry’s defense,’” write the article authors, quoting internal docu- ments referenced in a 2012 Mother Jones exposé. “For example, in 1971, it influenced the National Institute of Dental Research’s National Caries Program to shift its emphasis to dental caries interventions other than restricting sucrose. The industry commissioned a review, ‘Sugar in the Diet of Man,’ which it credited with, among other industry tactics, favorably influencing the 1976 US Food and Drug Administration evalu-ation of the safety of sugar. These findings, our analysis, and current Sugar Association criticisms of evidence linking sucrose to cardiovascular disease suggest the industry may have a long history of influencing federal policy.”

Meanwhile, New York University Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health Marion Nestle penned a concurrent JAMA editorial echoing the authors’ call “to treat industry-funded studies with some skepticism.” As she opines, “Although considerable evidence demon- strates that those industries deliberately influenced the design, results, and interpretation of the studies they paid for, much less is known about the influence of food-company sponsorship on nutrition research. Typi- cally, the disclosure statements of sponsored nutrition studies state that the funder had no role in their design, conduct, interpretation, writing, or publication. Without a ‘smoking gun’ it is difficult to prove otherwise.”

Additional details about the Mother Jones article appear in Issue 459 of this Update.