Sometimes, I come across hard-hitting news in the most unusual of places. And today’s example comes from www.eater.com — a foodie blog that offers restaurant news and reviews of the hottest dining spots in town.
It’s not exactly the first place I’d expect to find in-depth reporting on a subject near and dear to my heart. So an exposé on the crooked collusion between food manufacturers (Big Soda, in particular) and our very own government caught my attention, to say the least.
Decades of deception exposed
This story starts at a 2007 conference discussing associations between sugar and gum disease. In attendance was Dr. Cristin Kearns, now a professor of dentistry and health policy at the University of California at San Francisco (UCSF).
At one point, the keynote speaker referred to Lipton sweet tea — which, at the time, featured a whopping 55 grams of sugar — as a “healthy” beverage. And when Kearns confronted him on the issue, he doubled down — insisting that there’s no evidence that sugar contributes to chronic disease.
I could probably stop right there. Even a cursory glance at my archives would deliver a trove of research linking sugar to just about every chronic disease in the book—which makes this little anecdote scandalous enough.
But as it turns out, that was just the tip of the iceberg for Kearns.
Soon after, she proceeded to explore all the research that the sugar industry and other trade groups had sponsored. Eventually, she found a whole archive of material, which the Great Western Sugar Company (who’s empire crumbled in the 1970s) had donated to Colorado libraries.
This archive has since grown to more than 32,000 documents — some demanded through the Freedom of Information Act, and some even made public by Russian hackers. And it includes confidential memos, which shine a disturbing light on the sugar industry’s influential role in shaping modern food and beverage policy.
One document, for example, showed how Coca-Cola launched a war against soda taxes. One of their strategies included donating $1.5 million to the Global Energy Balance Network — a nonprofit dedicated to promoting the lie that exercise is more important than diet in weight management.
I advocate for regular physical activity as fiercely as the next doctor. But you and I both know that no amount of exercise can undo the damage of a poor diet. It’s a dangerous load of hogwash — one that Big Soda desperately wants the public to buy, along with their products.
Obesity is an existential threat
Here’s the bottom line: You’ve always got to keep in mind that when industry sponsors science — no matter what the business (though I’d argue that Big Pharma is the biggest player here) — the results will always favor industry.
The sugar industry has bankrolled research specifically designed to undermine connections between their product and heart disease. It’s also buried evidence that sucrose is linked to bladder cancer.
And they’ve been busy attacking proposed policy changes, like soda taxes or limits on sugary beverage sizes, too.
A side of sugar with your cigarette
What we have here is a reincarnation of the tobacco industry, which commissioned doctors to vouch for the safety of cigarettes. And the similarities aren’t just tactical. Because as it turns out, there are direct links between the tobacco and food industries.
You may not know this, but back in the 1980s, Philip Morris was the first tobacco company to buy into the food and beverage industry. Others quickly followed suit — and as a result, became the beneficiary of decades’ worth of expertise in public deception.
It really makes you wonder… How is it that we’re still swimming in a deluge of junk food? Our society seems to quit smoking or drinking more easily than abstaining from equally dangerous, cancer-causing foods…
We’ve been sold way more than soda, fries, and fast food burgers… We’ve also been sold a mindset. And it’s killing us.
One UCSF health policy professor referred to the obesity epidemic as “the global warming of public health.” And it’s hard to argue with her. Yes, climate change is a whole different field of study. But at its core, we’re facing a similar problem here…
The food and beverage industries single-handedly created the obesity crisis in the name of profit. And the people who could slow down this runaway train are blatantly ignoring the facts and subverting scientific truth in the interest of appeasing corporate interests.
It’s time we said enough is enough. The future of humankind is at stake. We deserve better.
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