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Sugar Industry Trade Group Suppressed Heart Disease, Bladder Cancer Findings for Nearly 50 Years

Sugar Heart Disease | Sugar Bladder Cancer | Sugar Industry Suppressed Research

Newly released historical documents suggest that a food industry trade group has concealed the truth about sugar for nearly 50 years, terminating and then burying a study that linked consumption of the sweet stuff to heart disease and bladder cancer.

The documents, which were discovered by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, are detailed in a report published this month in the medical journal PLOS Biology.

The authors maintain that their discovery is just the latest evidence that points to a long-term campaign on the part of the industry to obscure the harmful effects of sugar.

“The kind of manipulation of research is similar to what the tobacco industry does,” co-author Stanton Glantz said in a statement announcing the paper’s publication. “This kind of behavior calls into question sugar industry-funded studies as a reliable source of information for public policy making.”

Early Results from Project 259 Linked Sugar Consumption in Rats to High Triglycerides, Bladder Cancer

Funded by the International Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) and conducted by scientists at the University of Birmingham in England between 1967 and 1971, “Project 259: Dietary Carbohydrate and Blood Lipids in Germ-Free Rats,” was designed to compare the health of lab rats fed either table sugar or starch.

By 1971, early results suggested that triglycerides – a type of fat that contributes to high cholesterol – had risen among the sugar-consuming rats. Those  fed sugar also appeared to have elevated levels of beta-glucuronidase, an enzyme associated with bladder cancer in humans.

Funding Terminated When Results Looked Unfavorable

When the findings were passed on to the Foundation, funding was cut off and the research was terminated. The study was never published.

According to Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, the documents detailed in the PLOS Biology report are rare evidence of food industry efforts to suppress unfavorable research.

“From what this paper says, the sugar industry was not interested in answering open-ended questions about whether sugar might be harmful to rats or, given preliminary suggestions of possible harm, doing further studies to find out one way or the other,” she told The New York Times. “Instead, it stopped the research when the results looked unfavorable.”

Sugar Industry Uses Science to Protect its Economic Interests

Project 259 wasn’t the first time the International Sugar Foundation manipulated scientific findings. The authors of the PLOS Biology report had previously discovered that the same group secretly funded a 1967 article that downplayed evidence linking sugar consumption to heart disease.

The group’s successor, the Sugar Association, continues to fund research today.

“The sugar industry has stayed on top of, and in many cases ahead of, the scientific community and worked very hard to shape the discussion in ways that would protect their economic interests,” Glantz said.