A friend recently sent me this article from the NY Times: “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat“. The article details how researchers recently found documents showing that (more than 50 years ago) sugar industry executives paid and provided articles to scientists. The scientists were “encouraged” to write review articles highlighting fat as the main culprit in heart disease and downplay the role of sugar. Many believe this is why for decades fat was the focus of so much media attention, and that only now is sugar getting it’s day in the lime light as a bad guy in heart disease.
I highly encourage you to read the article and form your opinions, as always. Here are my thoughts.
1) I think the scientists industry leaders acted unethically IF things played out exactly as this article details. Scientists are allowed to receive funding from industry groups. However, this funding needs to be disclosed. Also, scientists have a duty in their research to present the whole picture, especially in a review article. Now, this happened before today’s current ethics rules were in place. But I don’t know that that entirely excuses the behavior. Again, I say IF this article is not skewing what really happened to make a better story.
2) While the review article in question likely did influence scientific and public opinion, researchers were already focusing on fat as a culprit in heart disease. If we could go back in time and take away the review article, fat still may have emerged as the prominent bad guy in nutrition world.
3) While the behavior was unethical, the American public is still somewhat to blame. We are the ones who turned to refined sugars and highly processed carbs. We could have turned to protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, etc. We as a people are looking for an easy solution. Fat is bad? Ok. I’ll just avoid that. There is not ONE bad nutrient. Good nutrition is a balance. We always seem to forget that, then blame science for telling us the wrong thing.
4) This highlights the importance of not only looking at the funding behind research but thinking about how we fund research. Scientists take money from private industries because research takes money and that is a good source of it. If we as a people want good, unbiased research, we need to help come up with the money to fund it. End of story.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on the article, sugar vs fat, and research funding. Please leave thoughts in the comments. And I’m always happy to respond to your questions or articles you send me! Just email me at: kimberlykmarsh(at)gmail(dot)com.