Big Sugar backlash disguised as “research”

Just when I thought we were finally making headway on convincing everyone that sugar is as dangerous as tobacco — or likely even more so — the sugar industry rears its ugly head again.

It’s no surprise that Big Sugar has deep pockets. Or that they’d reach into those pockets to launch a campaign to tug at our heartstrings in a desperate attempt to win back the public’s good graces. But the extent to which they’ll go to bury the truth about the devastating effects of sugar is still astonishing.

And to tell you the truth, I’m a bit worried that people will fall for the scheme Big Sugar is orchestrating. Why? Because sugar tastes good. How many of us would love to believe it’s not bad for us? I know I would. I’m sure most of you would too. There’s a reason it’s one of America’s most comforting of comfort foods.

But the truth is that sugar is deadly. We’ve seen it time and again, in study after study. No matter what Big Sugar’s new campaign is trying to convince us.

Here’s what they’re up to. They’re trying to divert our attention away from all the emerging research about sugar’s health effects by starting a debate over dietary guidelines. Their claim? That the guidelines on dietary sugar published over the past 20 years do not meet the criteria for “trustworthy recommendations.” According to Big Sugar, these guidelines aren’t based on high-quality evidence, and the advice hasn’t been consistent.

It’s bad enough that the sugar industry would try to pull this off in the first place, but like I said, it’s not surprising. What is surprising — appalling, really — is that they got the Annals of Internal Medicine to publish these ridiculous claims in the form of a “study.”

And not only that, but they made it look like the study was conducted by neutral parties. They said the research came out of the North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI). Sounds legitimate, right? Until you realize that ILSI North America is nothing more than a trade group. And guess who it represents…

Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper/Snapple Group, Hershey, Mars, Nestlé, and PepsiCo, among others. And what do they all have in common? Products based on sugar.

ILSI has a long history of opposing substantial limits to sugar guidelines. Clearly it has the money to do so. But it’s disheartening to know that it also has the clout to publish a bogus review study in such a prestigious medical journal.

The authors of this review claim that, because different studies discussed different types and amounts of sugars, they can’t be used to make recommendations about how much sugar is too much.

This bogus team of researchers also calls into question the editorial independence of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA). The DGA puts the upper limit of sugars at less than 10% of daily calories. But these researchers claim there’s no way to trust that guidance, since funding sources were “unclear.”

That’s a bald-faced lie. The DGA is federally sponsored, and the advisory committee members were thoroughly vetted for conflicts, per federal rules.

When you get right down to it, this is nothing more than a big smoke screen. When faced with real scientific evidence that shows something they don’t want to admit is true, the sugar industry doesn’t provide evidence to refute it. Instead, they plant doubt in the public’s mind — just enough doubt to make us question the real message we should be hearing (that sugar kills).

And just to eliminate any shadow of a doubt you might still have about the real motives here, let me take you a step further. The authors cite inconsistency among recommendations made between 1995 and 2016 as a basis for needing a new review of guidelines.

Duh! Of course recommendations spanning more than two decades evolved. Scientific knowledge always evolves. That’s just the way science works. It’s not a reason to claim the science is false.

Essentially what they are doing is attempting to politicize science. Which is what big special-interest groups do every day. But what bugs me most is that a prestigious medical journal — which should be independent, with strong editorial integrity — chose to publish the propaganda under the guise of “research.”

What we really need is a change in publication policy. Leading journal editors have refused to publish articles funded by the tobacco industry, so why don’t they hold the food and beverage industry to the same standards? Nothing should be published if it’s funded by entities with commercial interests in the outcome.

If that were the case, we would have far fewer studies published. But at least we’d know we could trust them.