We know sugar is bad for us. The daily intake of sugar in the United States is far above the recommended amount and high consumption has been linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. But if we know it’s so bad, why do we keep eating so much of it?
Part of the answer is in what sugar does to us. Eating sugar stimulates the brain to release dopamine, which makes us feels good. Much like other drugs that do the same (like heroin), our body craves that feeling and wants more, which is why there’s more and more consensus over the link between sugar consumption and sugar addiction.
But it’s not just our physical craving of sugar that’s leading to our consumption, it’s also big industry, and its influence on food policy.
Big industry has big interests, and when it comes to sugar, there’s evidence that companies are misusing science, and sometimes even “burying” it, to advance their own interests.
The Center for Science and Democracy just released a new report, titled “Added Sugar, Subtracted Science: How Industry Obscures Science and Undermines Public Health Policy on Sugar.” The authors write, “A major factor that has kept us in the dark about sugar’s detrimental impacts is the role that industry has played in keeping it that way. Sugar interests — food and beverage manufacturers along with industry-supported organizations such as trade associations, front groups, and public relations firms — have actively sought to ensure Americans’ consumption of high levels of sugar continues.”
According to Gretchen Goldman, lead analyst at the Center for Science and Democracy, a few key bullet points from the report include:
- In response to an inconvenient scientific paper, the Corn Refiners Association considered funding a counter study. But if that research didn’t confirm their position, one consultation wrote, “we can just bury the data.”
- In an effort to influence school nutrition rules, General Mills told the USDA that with the exception of dental issues, “sugar intake has not been shown to be directly associated with obesity or any chronic disease or health condition” — a claim that runs counter to the science implicating sugar in a variety of health problems, from obesity to heart disease.
According to the report, companies with sugar interest have also threatened “to suspend funding to the World Health Organization” and used “trade associations, front groups, and PR firms to deceive the public.” Sound a little like another big industry we know well that starts with a big T?
While ultimately it’s up to the consumer to choose what they want to eat, it’s also up to the government to provide guidelines so we know what we are consuming. The FDA is currently considering an update to the nutrition label on packaged food that would require manufacturers to label whether or not there are added sugars in the product. In the United States, adults get 13% of their calories from added sugars; publicizing whether or not there are added sugars in a food product would provide for more transparency and educated consumer decisions.
The sugar industry doesn’t like that legislation, however, resulting in a letter signed by six trade groups (including the National Confectioners Association, Corn Refiners Association and the American Beverage Association) that offered to fund a study on label effectiveness. According to the Center for Science and Democracy, that’s the kind of funding that leads to misinformed science, and bad food policies that are keeping us unhealthy.
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