How the Sugar Industry Meddled With Cavity Research

Study of 40-year-old papers compares sugar, tobacco industries
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 11, 2015 10:40 AM CDT
This May 31, 2012 file photo shows a display of various size cups and sugar cubes at a news conference at New York's City Hall.   (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
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(Newser) – Perhaps the sugar industry isn't so sweet after all: A new study finds not only did the industry know sugar caused tooth decay as early as 1950, it pushed to keep the idea of limiting sugary snacks and beverages from National Institute of Health guidelines throughout the 1960s and '70s, USA Today reports. It also succeeded: Some 1,500 documents dating from 1959 to 1971, unearthed in 2010, show that 78% of the sugar industry's recommendations were included in a 1971 request for research proposals on cavity prevention that came from the NIH's National Institute of Dental Research, Science reports. In fact, the committee that worked on the request was made up almost entirely of sugar industry expert panel members, minus one, according to a press release. Recommendations unfavorable to the sugar industry were omitted.

Asking people to limit their sugar intake would have made the most sense, researchers say, but the sugar industry instead funded research on enzymes capable of destroying dental plaque that could be added to food, as well as creating a vaccine that would protect against tooth decay. "The sugar industry, like the tobacco industry, seeks to protect profits over public health," a researcher says. Tooth decay is the leading chronic disease among children in the US and "the policies we are debating today could have been addressed more than 40 years ago," another adds. The Sugar Association criticizes the paper's "scare tactics that liken consumption of all-natural sugar … to a known carcinogen" and says it's "challenging ... to comment directly on documents and events that allegedly occurred before and during Richard Nixon's presidency." (Click for the WHO's latest sugar guidelines.)

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