How Bad Is Sucrose For You? Sugar Industry Has Covered Up The Truth For 50 Years

When research funded by the sugar industry began to show evidence that sucrose was linked to poor cardiovascular health nearly 50 years ago, the industry pulled the plug on the study and then tried to hide the fact that it had ever commissioned the work, according to a new report. 

In 1965, the Sugar Research Foundation funded an animal study, “Project 259: Dietary Carbohydrate and Blood Lipids in Germ-Free Rats,” according to an investigation published online by PLOS Biology. The aim of the study, conducted by Dr. W.F.R. Pover at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. between 1967 and 1971, was to investigate the different effects sugar has on rats.

Related: Cancer feeds on sugar to make tumors more aggressive 

As you might predict, results began to suggest that sugar wasn’t so healthy after all. According to The Independent, these study results were one of the first times that scientists noted a biological difference between sucrose and starch consumption in rats.

As it became apparent that sucrose may cause heart disease and bladder cancer in the rats, the sugar industry terminated the project, and the results went unpublished. Cristin Kearns, Dorie Apollonio and Stanton Glantz from the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), reviewed sugar industry documents and discovered the cover-up. 

11_22_cupcakes Although it's well known today that sugar is bad for your health, 50 years ago this wasn't the case. Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for DuJour

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

Related: Eating sugar makes men sad but not women, 30-year study indicates 

Not publishing study results is a common practice. Science is unpredictable, and often when projects do not yield the results the researcher (or the company funding the project) would like, the findings may suddenly disappear. Today, this is illegal, as a 2007 law requires public reporting of study results. However, nearly half a century ago these cover-ups were more likely to go unseen.

As for the sugar industry, this isn’t the first time it has been caught trying to cover up evidence suggesting that sugar is bad for you. In a 2016 paper, Kearns and Glantz found evidence showing that when a 1967 Harvard-led study paid for by Big Sugar failed to disprove claims that sugar played a role in heart disease, the researchers instead significantly downplayed the link between sugar and heart disease, NPR reported.

We already knew that sugar can have adverse effects on health before this cover-up was revealed. Still, the paper highlights the importance of following the money when it comes to scientific research.

While it can be easy to read the research conclusions and take them as the truth, in reality research funders can play a large role in study results. For this reason, the public is reminded to view the parts of a research paper, not just the conclusion.

As for the funding behind the study that revealed the cover-up? Among others, we find sugar’s biggest enemy: dentists. Or, specifically, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research and UCSF's School of Dentistry, the Department of Orofacial Sciences and the Global Oral Health Program.

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