Scientists Paid to Downplay the Health Effects of Sugar in the 1960s

6789898978_873052c28a_z

This week NPR reported on an article recently published in Jama Internal Medicine about how the sugar industry paid Harvard scientists back in the 1960s to downplay the risks of consuming sugar. This article provides proof that the sugar industry actually did attempt to influence the scientific process which, in turn, most likely impacted the dietary guidelines that were released by the Federal Government during this time.

The Sugar Research Foundation (SRF), a predecessor of today’s Sugar Association, funded a research study that was a review of scientific studies and experiments about sugar and fat. The study, which had multiple faults that I will discuss, minimized the significance of any studies that had suggested that sugar might be linked to coronary heart disease. Instead, it concluded that fat should be cut from American diets to address heart disease.

The research study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967, made no mention that it was funded by the sugar industry. The scientists from Harvard received the equivalent of $50,000 in today’s dollars to perform the research. One researcher, who was the Chairman of Harvard’s Public Health Nutrition Department, was also an ad hoc member of SRF’s board.

Holy conflict of interest, Batman.

The article highlighted a few key problems and inconsistencies in the research the scientists performed. Many of the studies examined were hand-selected by SRF. The scientists also applied different standards to different studies, looking critically at research implicating sugar but not those implicating fat (though they concluded that fat was the bad guy at the end of the day…). They dismissed some studies but used others that were the same kind of research of those they dismissed. Basically, they chose certain studies that would get them to the conclusion that they wanted.

The conclusion made by this week’s article was that the scientists back in the 60s based their findings on few study characteristics and no quantitative results.

Dietary guidelines were released by the Federal Government not too long after this study was published recommending that American’s decrease their consumption of fat. This led to the low-fat and fat-free diet crazes many of us were raised on. This recommendation was a boon to the sugar industry because when fat is removed from food, sugar is put into it so that it will actually taste good. Fast forward 50 years later and sugar is in almost every product on our supermarket shelves (I know this because I actually checked and then wrote about in The Hunt for Hidden Sugars). Heart disease rates have not gone down and obesity has skyrocketed.

Think the sugar industry is the only group that funds research? Nope. According to nutrition scholar Marion Nestle of New York University, who spent a year informally tracking industry-funded food studies, “roughly 90% of nearly 170 studies favored the sponsor’s interest.”

I don’t know about you, but that’ll make me think twice before I blindly follow the recommendations of food studies I read about in the news.

Photo credit:  Image courtesy of Judy van der Velden on flickr

Advertisements

Improving School Lunch Programs

5864606684_593f2f9d8f_z

As an educator of health and wellness, I get really excited when I read about organizations and programs that are making a difference in our world by reducing food waste, educating people on nutrition, working to improve school lunches and finding other innovative ways to improve our food systems and our health.

So when I read about the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School program and Bay2Tray, I naturally wanted to learn more about what these programs are doing. I believe that learning about innovations in the health and wellness fields is important for everyone. Not only will it open our eyes to opportunities for our communities and families, but it may spark other ideas of ways to bring about positive change.

USDA’s Farm to School Program

This program helps child nutrition program operators incorporate local foods in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs, Summer Food Service Program and Child and Adult Care Food Program. It is run by the Food and Nutrition Service’s Office of Community Food Systems (OCFS) and was formally established in 2010 with the passing of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.

Farm to School is defined by the USDA as “efforts to bring locally or regionally produced food into school cafeterias; hands-on learning activities such as school gardening, farm visits and culinary classes; and the integration of food-related education into the regular, standards-based classroom curriculum.”

In 2013-2014, school districts purchased nearly $800 million from local farmers, fishermen, ranchers, and food processors and manufacturers. At the national level, approximately 42% of school districts operated farm to school programs for the 2014-2015 school year and approximately 16% had plans to start in the future. There are also about 7,000 school gardens nationwide that grow produce for use in school cafeterias while also teaching students about where food comes from.

Eating locally sourced food is not only typically healthier, but it improves local economies, can save schools money and helps save the environment by decreasing the amount of fossil fuels used in transportation.

Bay2Tray

This program was created by Alan Lovewell of Real Good Fish, one of the first community-supported fisheries in Northern California. Bay2Tray has created a market for less-marketable bycatch fish in school lunch programs. Bycatch is a term used for fish caught in nets of fisherman who are aiming to catch other fish (i.e. the unwanted byproduct of normal commercial fishing). It constitutes approximately 40% of the world’s catch, a significant underutilized market that is normally just discarded.

Through Bay2Tray, this underutilized fresh fish is sold to school cafeterias. Schools who participate in the program now use fresh catch for fish tacos and salads instead of serving frozen fish sticks. This creates more revenue for the fishermen, provides schools with fresh, healthy food and supports sustainable regional food systems. It also teaches students of the importance of eating locally sourced food and that fish is an important part of a healthy diet. This is especially important in areas where unhealthy food is prevalent and financial constraints may make it hard for families to afford fresh seafood.

Bay2Tray currently works with the Monterey Peninsula Unified School District and is expanding to other schools in California. About 138 schools and early education programs in the Bay Area participate in this program.

These two programs are making a difference in a big way. Their creation has brought local food economies to the forefront in areas where it wasn’t really considered previously, namely schools. What children eat at school every day is so incredibly important and it has a direct impact on how they perform in the classroom. Students crashing from a sugar high from their lunch or hungry all morning because they didn’t eat breakfast will not be able to concentrate on what they are learning.

It makes me happy when I read about organizations and programs that are making the world a healthier and better place. This day and age we often only hear about obesity rates and how the overall health of our country is declining, not enough of the good stories. The companies and programs who are fighting to beat this trend. I will keep my eye out and let you know of other ones that peak my interest.

Related Post: 5 Issues with American Food Culture and What We Can Do About It

Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Liz West on flickr