FDA, Science

Sugar and Spice and Everything Nice

The sugar industry succeeded in seducing the public for many years.
The sugar industry succeeded in seducing the public for many years.
Image: Shutterstock

What comes to mind when you think about sugar?  Does it make you happy because sugar is so sweet and tasty?  Or, does it frighten you since you are sure it is bad for you?  The sugar industry, of course, wants you to love it!

In 1976, two executives from the Sugar Association took the stage at the Chicago ballroom to accept an award, The Silver Anvil, for excellence in “the forging of public opinion.”  Essentially, they were being thanked and applauded for convincing everyone sugar was safe.  They were a model for PR students the world over.

For almost a decade prior, sugar had been blasted as “a likely cause of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.”  The claim of sugar executives that consumption of sugar would help you lose weight was disproven and called out by the Federal Trade Commission.  The Food and Drug Administration conducted a review of whether sugar was safe at all.

So, the fact that there were smiling faces in that Chicago audience was a minor miracle.  Only a few short years before, doctors were warning patients off of it, and the general consensus was that it was fattening to eat too much sugar.  So, the sugar industry armed itself.  They poured $800,000 ($3.4 million today) at the problem. This was funded by major sugar companies such as Dixie Crystals, Domino, C&H, Great Western, and others.  They argued that sugar was a harmless product that “opportunists were trying to use to exploit the consuming public.”  They even paid off doctors, nutritionists, snack and beverage companies and others to speak on behalf of sugar.

Further, they paid for “scientific research” about the benefits of sugar and subsequently received a favorable FDA ruling.  This made it “unlikely that sugar would be subject to legislative restriction in coming years.”

No longer was sugar thought to be a “villain in disguise,” as it was called by The New York Times in 1977.  In fact, people’s consumption went way up.  They couldn’t get enough.  What happened then is no surprise.  Obesity rates doubled and diabetes rates tripled.

How did the sugar industry so effectively pull the wool over everyone’s eyes?  They used the same types of tactics as did big tobacco.  Yet, their job was easy compared to an industry which knew its products caused cancer.  Sugar executives simply had to create doubt as to the dangers of consumption.  They didn’t actually have to prove it was healthy.  They just wanted to show it wasn’t harmful.

It worked for many years.  However, recently things are shifting back toward recognition of sugar’s dangers.  It is now generally recognized that sugar is a contributor for type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  A new study from the University of California-Davis showed that LDL cholesterol levels increase after drinking sugary drinks for just two weeks.

Surely the sugar industry won’t take this lying down.  They will likely fight with all the money they can come up with to once again “prove” that sugar is safe.  Yet, perhaps it’s time to look into stock options in Stevia.

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