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Special Communication
November 2016

Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents

Author Affiliations
  • 1Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, San Francisco, California
  • 2Department of Orofacial Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco
  • 3Clinical and Translational Science Institute, San Francisco, California
  • 4Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine, University of California, San Francisco
  • 5Department of Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco
  • 6Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, San Francisco, California
  • 7Cardiovascular Research Institute, San Francisco, California
  • 8Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, San Francisco, California
JAMA Intern Med. 2016;176(11):1680-1685. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5394

Early warning signals of the coronary heart disease (CHD) risk of sugar (sucrose) emerged in the 1950s. We examined Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) internal documents, historical reports, and statements relevant to early debates about the dietary causes of CHD and assembled findings chronologically into a narrative case study. The SRF sponsored its first CHD research project in 1965, a literature review published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which singled out fat and cholesterol as the dietary causes of CHD and downplayed evidence that sucrose consumption was also a risk factor. The SRF set the review’s objective, contributed articles for inclusion, and received drafts. The SRF’s funding and role was not disclosed. Together with other recent analyses of sugar industry documents, our findings suggest the industry sponsored a research program in the 1960s and 1970s that successfully cast doubt about the hazards of sucrose while promoting fat as the dietary culprit in CHD. Policymaking committees should consider giving less weight to food industry–funded studies and include mechanistic and animal studies as well as studies appraising the effect of added sugars on multiple CHD biomarkers and disease development.

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