Citing internal cane and beet sugar documents dating back to 1959, an article published in PLOS Medicine claims that the sugar industry made a concerted effort to alter the priorities of the National Institute of Dental Research’s (NIDR’s) 1971 National Caries Program (NCP). Cristin Kearns, Stanton A. Glantz, et al., “Sugar Industry Influence on the Scientific Agenda of the National Institute of Dental Research’s 1971 National Caries Program: A Historical Analysis of Internal Documents,” PLOS Medicine, March 2015.

University of California, San Francisco, researchers apparently relied on World Sugar Research Organization documents obtained from the University of Illinois Archives, which housed the correspondence of a university professor who also served on the Sugar Research Foundation and International Sugar Research Foundation Advisory Board. They also acquired documents related to NPC via PubMed and WorldCat, as well as by contacting NIDR directly.

“The sugar industry could not deny the role of sucrose in dental caries given the scientific evidence,” opines the article. “They therefore adopted a strategy to deflect attention to public health interventions that would reduce the harms of sugar consumption rather than restricting intake.”

In particular, the authors suggest that sugar manufacturers sponsored scientific studies and cultivated ties with program leadership at a time when NIDR sought to eliminate dental caries by reducing sugar consumption. They also allege that sugar companies partnered with the food industry to investigate cures for dental decay, including food enzymes and vaccines, instead of researching sugar-reduction methods. As a result of these efforts, NCP purportedly eliminated research applications that conflicted with industry priorities.

“Most importantly, these findings illustrate how the sugar industry has protected itself from potentially damaging research in the past; a similar approach has also been taken by the tobacco industry,” concludes the article. “These findings highlight the need to carefully scrutinize industry opposition to the proposed [World Health Organization] and [Food and Drug Administration] guidelines on sugar intake and labeling, respectively, to ensure that industry interests do not interfere with current efforts to improve dental public health.”