U.S. Sugar Industry Influenced Tooth Decay Research Policies

sugar industry

A new study shows that the sugar industry in the United States convinced authorities to find ways other than eliminating sweets from the diet to prevent teeth decay.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found 319 industry documents from the 1960s and 1970s showing a collusion between policy makers and the sugar industry. They were stored in a public library collection at the University of Illinois. The study was published in the journal PLOS Medicine.

“A sugar industry trade organization representing 30 international members had accepted the fact that sugar caused tooth decay as early as 1950,” according to the study.

The researchers discovered that by 1969, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had decided that reducing sugar consumption was not practical as a public health measure, the AFP reported.

The NIH worked with the sugar industry to find out different methods to prevent cavities. According to the study, 78% of the organization’s own research priorities were directly incorporated into the 1971 National Caries Program’s first request for research proposals from scientists.

“The dental community has always known that preventing tooth decay required restricting sugar intake,” states Cristin Kearns, a UCSF postdoctoral scholar. “It was disappointing to learn that the policies we are debating today could have been addressed more than forty years ago.”

Kearns and other researchers made a comparison of the papers including over 1,000 pages of correspondence among sugar industry executives from 1959 to 1971 to documents from the then National Institute of Dental Research. The study revealed that the sugar industry provided funds for research on enzymes to break up dental plaque and a vaccine against tooth decay.

They also found that the sugar industry “cultivated relationships with the NIDR and that a sugar industry expert panel were overlapped by all but one member with the NIDR panel that influenced the priorities for the NIH tooth decay program.”

Stanton Glantz, co-author of the study, says that these “tactics are strikingly similar to what we saw in the tobacco industry in the same era.”


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About the author

Kristin covers health, science and internet news.