Industry-Funded Sugar Study: Don’t Trust Other Sugar Studies

Two opposing papers in Annals of Internal Medicine battle over dietary guidelines on sugar.

By | December 21, 2016

PIXABAY, HUMUSAKDietary guidelines that recommend reductions in sugar intake are inconsistent and based on poor evidence, according to a study funded in part by the sugar industry, which was published in Annals of Internal Medicine this week (December 20). An accompanying editorial disputes this conclusion and notes the study authors’ financial ties to the International Life Sciences Institute, an organization funded by The Coca-Cola Company and other industry titans.

“This study suggests that placing limits on ‘junk food’ is based on ‘junk science,’” Dean Schillinger and Cristin Kearns of the University of California, San Francisco, wrote in the editorial. “Similar claims were made by the tobacco industry in its attempt to discredit evidence on the harms of tobacco.”

The industry-funded study reviewed nine sugar guidelines released over the course of two decades, including the World Health Organization’s recently updated recommendations. The study’s authors reported evidence to suggest that the guidelines are inconsistent—as they often call for different levels of sugar consumption—and based on shaky data. “Overall, I would say the guidelines are not trustworthy,” coauthor Bradley Johnston, an epidemiologist at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto told NPR’s The Salt. “What’s happening is that guideline panelists are making strong recommendations based on low-quality evidence.”

Johnston and colleagues noted their funding sources in the study, highlighting the potential conflict. “[We] conducted the study independent of the funding body,” the study authors wrote. “However, given our funding source, our study team has a financial conflict of interest and readers should consider our results carefully.”

But Marion Nestle, a nutrition professor at New York University who was not involved in the study, echoed Schillinger and Kearns’s concerns. “This is a classic example of industry-funded research aimed at one purpose and one purpose only: to cast doubt on the science linking diets high in sugars to poor health,” she told The Salt. “This paper is shameful.”

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Avatar of: JonRichfield


Posts: 134

December 21, 2016

To declare my interests first:

I don't smoke, I disapprove of smoking in most senses, disapprove of unreasonable constraints on people's choices of action, do eat sugar in common forms and modest amounts, both in fruit and processed forms. I have a professional, if rusty, level of biochemical knowledge, and am in long-standing, rude and happy health.

I have no personal interest in sugar-related industries, unless my pension fund invests in them without my knowledge (or interest, much).


SO: when it comes to arguments of this type, where interests other than science clash, one naturally expects a certain amount of unpleasant partisanship and the concomitant shrillness -- nasty, but inevitable until such time as robots rather than apologists take over the field of research.

I trust I am not betraying my age too badly by confessing that when I first began to study science, it was a matter of pride as well as an element of one's principles, to be objective and scientific in one's attitude. But never mind that.

Now, it is common cause that it is possible for persons undertaking nominally scientific investigations in which they have personal interests, "to indulge in an innocent fiction", and I have just minutes ago put aside the article "Top 10 Retractions of 2016" and am trying not to let it spoil my supper.

But I would urge antagonists, beg them in fact, that though they are in every way correct to be on the qui vive and to give due attention to sporting admonitions such as: "given our funding source, our study team has a financial conflict of interest and readers should consider our results carefully", this behooves them to respond with greater scientific propriety, not with greater self-righteousness or indignation at the heinous assumption of the role of research worker on the part of the servants of the forces of evil.

In short, if the objectors disagree, or even disapprove, the appropriate reaction in science is to present reason and evidence with which readers, colleagues who agree with, and colleagues who oppose, their views might convince themselves of the merits of their arguments. I beg them to ask themselves how convincing snide or hysterical responses along the following lines would be, should they have read anything of the kind in a matter on which they held no particular views:

“Similar claims were made by the tobacco industry in its attempt to discredit evidence on the harms of tobacco.” (Completely damning of course; worth sheaves of clinical epidemiology and physiological work. You could hardly get a lower p-value than that could you? (But while you are at it,  check out some recent articles on the abuse of p-values!))


“This is a classic example of industry-funded research aimed at one purpose and one purpose only: to cast doubt on the science linking diets high in sugars to poor health. This paper is shameful.”

And for all I know it might have been, and there may be more and worse on the way, but if smug self-righteousness is the best argument anyone can come up with, I am already considering whether the stearine in my next bar of chocolate is likely to be an adequate antidote to its content of sucrose or high fructose corn syrup. Nothing in that response suggests that it might not be, nor that there is anything wrong with the forces of Sauron.

So please ladies and gentlemen, friends and colleagues on both sides of whatever fences you may have erected, or whatever no-men's-lands you may have established, if you think you owe your fellow citizens a duty of information and perspective, then do not betray that duty with politicians' tricks and rabble-rousers' posturings. Such have invaded the field of science far too deeply already, and it is over time to rout and banish them, not play the Quisling or the dupe by establishing them yet more firmly.


Avatar of: Mellow Guy

Mellow Guy

Posts: 8

December 21, 2016

Sugar is a carbohydrate and it doesn't matter where the carbohydrate comes from. My nephew got high blood sugar from drinking large amounts of soda which was reversed by switching to diet soda.

Fruit juices contain large amounts of sugar and should be used sparingly.

Potatoes, rice, and bread have large amounts of starches (a type of  carbohydrate) which get converted by the body to sugar.



Avatar of: JonRichfield


Posts: 134

Replied to a comment from Mellow Guy made on December 21, 2016

December 22, 2016

Like all the major classes of biochemicals, you get carbohydrates and carbohydrates. Even different simple sugars have different metabolic effects. To argue that carbohydrate is carboydrate makes as much sense as arguing that fructose is like cellulose or xylose. You might equally well argue that glucose is the same as fat or straight-chain amino acids because they all end up in the acetate pool or perhaps oxidised in the production of ATP.

Consuming excessive amounts of ANYTHING is as harmful as it is stupid, whether it is meat, beet, or sweet, so I don't know why you felt that the anecdote of your cousin or whoever it was, should astonish anyone in any relevant respect.

If you happen to feel that his experience, as you retailed it, is of particular scientific significance, do please submit it to one of the groups working in the field, or present it to one of the peer-reviewed learned journals yourself, complete with your interpretations;  not everyone who knows what happens to carbohydrates in the human body is likely to appreciate its implications before reading it in such a medium.

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