If you were wondering how the purveyors of sugary products felt about recent health guidelines suggesting people lower their sugar intake, a new study would seem to provide the pretty obvious answer: They’re aren’t too keen on them. And critics of these companies suggest these big food brands are happy to pay for the scientific research to back up those feelings – conflicts of interest be damned.
This week, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a paper entitled “The Scientific Basis of Guideline Recommendations on Sugar Intake: A Systematic Review.” After said review, the report concluded, “Guidelines on dietary sugar do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations and are based on low-quality evidence. Public health officials (when promulgating these recommendations) and their public audience (when considering dietary behavior) should be aware of these limitations.”
That would seem like a fair statement except for one potential problem: As the New York Times reports, the study has some questionable funding: “The review was paid for by the International Life Sciences Institute, a scientific group … funded by multinational food and agrochemical companies including Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods and Monsanto.” As if that’s not bad enough, “One of the authors is a member of the scientific advisory board of Tate & Lyle, one of the world’s largest suppliers of high-fructose corn syrup.” It’s a little hard to believe that those things are just a sweet coincidence.
“This comes right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook: cast doubt on the science,” Marion Nestle, a New York University professor of nutrition, food studies and public health who specifically looks into conflicts of interest in nutrition research, told the Times. “This is a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion. It’s shameful.”
Meanwhile, the Annals of Internal Medicine was left to defend its decision to even publish the study. “We thought that this was something that our readers would be interested in, and we thought the methods of the systematic review were high quality,” said Dr. Christine Laine, the journal’s editor in chief. “We decided to go ahead and publish it despite the fact that we’re completely aware that the funding source has a relationship with the food and beverage industry.”
As to what you should make of the study’s findings, that just depends how seriously you take sugary conflicts of interest.