Big Sugar’s Role in Health Policy May be Bigger than You Think

When we think about health policies in this country, we would like to assume that they are created and enforced in order to, well, protect public health. However, as we know today, there are darker influences on health policy than the simple wish to encourage health.

We know, for example, that Big Food manufacturers in this country are all about profits, which is witnessed in the cheap, artificial, and unhealthy ingredients that are pumped into processed foods. Many of these ingredients are legal in the US but not in many places overseas . If this weren’t enough, unfortunately, there’s more bad news.

According to new research published in the journal PLOS Medicine, the sugar industry has played a major role in keeping the sweet poison’s role in our foods safe, secure… and dangerous.

This research involved an analysis of the funding goals and initiatives of the NIH’s National Institute of Dental Research. Sugar industry documents dating as far back as 1959 were analyzed and compared to the policies of the National Institute of Dental Research (NIDR), and its National Cares Program (NCP).

According to the study’s primary author, Professor Stanton Glantz of UC San Francisco, “[the documents] show that the sugar industry appreciated the dangers of sugar in terms of cavities way back in the 50s. But rather than just say, ‘Okay, we need to do something about this,’ they successfully influenced NIH to not pursue the kind of research that would have eventually supported public health interventions to reduce sugar intake.”

sugarThe study authors further explain, “the NCP was a missed opportunity to develop a scientific understanding of how to restrict sugar consumption to prevent tooth decay. A key factor was the alignment of research agendas between the NIDR and the sugar industry. This historical example illustrates how industry protects itself from potentially damaging research, which can inform policy makers today.”

Wow. Considering that sugar-related lifestyle illnesses (obesity, type 2 diabetes, tooth decay, etc.) are so prevalent in this country, it feels like a kick in the face that our health policies seem to be doing little to protect us. The researchers of this new study also compare Big Sugar’s actions to those historically taken by Big Tobacco, which spent years minimizing awareness of cigarettes’ damaging health effects.

So, what can be done now? According to the study authors, “industry opposition to current policy proposals – including a World Health Organization guideline on sugars proposed in 2014 and changes to the nutrition facts panel on packaged food in the US proposed in 2014 by the US Food and Drug Administration – should be carefully scrutinized to ensure that industry interests do not supersede public health goals.”

That would be a step. In the meantime, we’ll skip the sugar altogether – and we’ll be pretty skeptical of health policies in general. When in doubt, doing your own research is key. It’s your health, after all.

-The Alternative Daily


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