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In recent years, there's been growing evidence that too much sugar can increase the risk of heart disease. It's a message that's taken decades to get out. NPR's Allison Aubrey reports on a paper published today that sheds light on what the sugar industry learned back in the 1970s about links between sugar and heart disease but didn't reveal.
ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: Remember when fat was the dietary devil? For many years, Americans got the message to avoid fat, to cut way back. But until recently, not much was said about the need to limit sugar. Stanton Glantz at the University of California, San Francisco says to understand why it took so long to get the message on sugar you've got to go way back.
STANTON GLANTZ: Back in the '60s, the fact that diet affected heart disease was a new idea. And there was a debate going on about the role of fats and the role of sugar. And what the sugar industry successfully did was they shifted all of the blame onto fats.
AUBREY: Glantz says for starters, the Sugar Research Foundation secretly funded a review in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1965 that discounted the evidence on sugar. And now what's come to light in a new paper published today in the journal PLOS Biology is that the industry funded its own research back then. Internal industry documents that Glantz and his collaborators reviewed show that the Sugar Research Foundation hired a researcher to do a study in lab animals. Initial results showed that high-sugar diets increased triglycerides, which increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. But Glantz says the findings never seemed to see the light of day.
GLANTZ: The researcher went to the Sugar Foundation (ph) and showed them his very exciting findings that sugar was increasing triglyceride levels through effects on the microbiome, and they pulled the plug on the study.
AUBREY: And when they pulled the plug on the study, did he say, hey, wait a minute here, people need to know this? What did he do?
GLANTZ: Well, he went to them and said, here are my preliminary findings. I need a little more time. And they just said no.
AUBREY: The Sugar Association, a trade group here in Washington, D.C., that has organizational ties to the Sugar Research Foundation, has responded to these new revelations. In a statement, the group says the study in question was not ended because of its potential research findings, but rather because the research was over budget and significantly delayed. The industry group goes on to say that it remains committed to supporting research to further understand the role sugar plays in our diets and health. But critics argue the industry is still trying to slow down the consensus on sugar. The president of the Sugar Association has described the recent recommendation to limit added sugars to no more than 10 percent of our daily calories as, quote, "scientifically out of bounds." Allison Aubrey, NPR News.
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