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Feature Sugar

Sugar’s web of influence 2: Biasing the science

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 11 February 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h215
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist, Suffolk, UK
  1. jgornall{at}

The sugar industry is increasingly making efforts to buy into the science on nutrition, reports Jonathan Gornall

Industry funding of research that shows sugar in a good light is nothing new. In 2009, US dental administrator Cristin Couzens unearthed the files of a bankrupt sugar company and discovered a cache of revelatory documents spanning decades.

Couzens found that back in the 1960s, when diet drinks were seen as a threat to manufacturers of sugary drinks, the industry had funded research in an attempt to show that cyclamate sweeteners were bad for health. In the 1970s, efforts were made to distance sugar from diabetes, and between 1975 and 1980 the Sugar Association in the US had funded 17 studies “to maintain research as a main prop of the industry’s defense.”1

As recently as 2003, a Sugar Association newsletter showed it was trying to secure seats for “unbiased” experts on the US Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines advisory panel and made this pledge to its members: the association was “committed to the protection and promotion of sucrose consumption. Any disparagement of sugar will be met with forceful, strategic public comments and the supporting science.”2

This document, Couzens said in a 2013 interview, showed the sugar industry was “still very active in nominating scientists to serve on the dietary guidelines advisory committee, and it is still publishing research through connections with the World Sugar Research Organisation, based in London.”3

The World Sugar Research Organisation (WSRO) did not respond to several attempts to contact it. However, according to its website, it is “an international scientific research organisation globally supported by the sugar industry,” dedicated to “encouraging a better appreciation of the direct and indirect contribution made by sugar to the nutrition, health and wellbeing of all the populations of the world.” …

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