business news in context, analysis with attitude

The New York Times this morning reports that The Annals of Internal Medicine, described as "a prominent medical journal," has published "a scathing attack on global health advice to eat less sugar. Warnings to cut sugar, the study argued, are based on weak evidence and cannot be trusted."

However, that study "quickly elicited sharp criticism from public health experts because the authors have ties to the food and sugar industries ... Critics say the medical journal review is the latest in a series of efforts by the food industry to shape global nutrition advice by supporting prominent academics who question the role of junk food and sugary drinks in causing obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other health problems."

The Times writes that "the review was paid for by the International Life Sciences Institute, a scientific group that is based in Washington, D.C., and is funded by multinational food and agrochemical companies including Coca-Cola, General Mills, Hershey’s, Kellogg’s, Kraft Foods and Monsanto. 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."

You can read the entire Times piece here.
KC's View:
Gee. Why would anyone think that a group bought and paid for by companies in the food industry that sell sugary products might come up with a study with a bias toward sugar? I just cannot understand that level of cynicism...


I went to the website of The Annals of Internal Medicine, where I read an abstract of the study. Alas, I could not read the entire report because I am not a subscriber. (Not that I am likely to have been able to understand it had I been able to read it.) There is a mention that the primary funding source was the "Technical Committee on Dietary Carbohydrates of the North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute."

To be fair, I cannot claim to have any understanding of the scientific methods used to reach such conclusions. The Times story suggests that there is debate over methodology as well as conclusions, and I'm not smart enough to come to an independent conclusion.

But I am smart enough to remember the old Upton Sinclair line about how "it's difficult to get a man to understand something if his salary depends upon his not understanding it." The inverse also is true - it is easy to get someone to accept something if his livelihood depends on accepting it.

Marion Nestle, the professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, tells the Times that "“this comes right out of the tobacco industry’s playbook: cast doubt on the science ... This is a classic example of how industry funding biases opinion. It’s shameful." And I agree, especially about the tobacco comparison - and in my view, food industry companies should be doing everything possible to avoid being lumped in with those folks, who, as I've often said in this space, eventually are going to find themselves in a special and hotter circle of hell.

And, by the way, the same goes for people and organizations that criticize such studies ... if they're bought and paid for by interested parties with a financial interest in the other side, they are equally suspect.

Here's what all these people have to do. Be transparent. In the first paragraph. And not hide behind names like "Technical Committee on Dietary Carbohydrates of the North American branch of the International Life Sciences Institute."