6 Actions You Can Take Today Against Big Sugar

Big Tobacco lies were a turning point in the fight against tobacco, what will it take for us to cut the cord with Big Sugar?

Big Sugar Lies Exposed

A game-changing new study by the University of California San Francisco shows how the sugar industry not only influenced, but infiltrated and derailed research about the health impact of sugar. Sound familiar?

Sugar has been linked to chronic disease since the 1960s. Sugary drinks are a major contributor. Yet scientists today still haven’t reached consensus. And it’s not the pace of science that’s the problem.

By reviewing actual sugar industry documents, the study highlights the mechanics of scientific sabotage in action. It tells a poignant story from 1969 when the a sugar industry group called the International Sugar Research Foundation (ISRF) hitched itself to the process of devising dental health research recommendations for a new national program. The UCSF research demonstrated that 40% of that sugar industry’s recommendations were taken word-for-word by the National Institute of Dental Health and became national policy.

Two sugar industry groups that exist 2015, evolved directly out of this original Sugar Research Foundation. Modern tactics are eerily similar and have gone unchecked.

This study was co-authored by the infamous Stan Glantz, whose obsession with two boxes of industry documents in 1994 sunk Big Tobacco’s image by proving they hid cancer knowledge for decades. He worked with the UCSF library to get millions of industry documents digitized for the web, which fueled the enormously effective truth campaign and anti-corporate activism all across the country.

But the real hero of this story is the other author, Cristin Kearns, a former dentist who quit her job to dig through a cardboard box of of internal sugar industry documents she found in a library reading room. With a smoking gun buried in the pile, she partnered with writer Gary Taubes (who wrote the historic sugar takedown in the New York Times) to use 1,500 pages of the documents to blow the lid of sugar industry tactics.

Hopefully this public health supergroup will continue apply the experience and rigor of fighting Big Tobacco to holding Big Food accountable.

Further Reading — Big Sugar’s Sweet Little Lies: How the industry kept scientists from asking: Does sugar kill?

“The sugar industry was able to derail some promising research that probably would’ve been the foundation for regulation of sugar.” — Stan Glantz

Common Corporate Tactics

It sounds antiquated that an industry could be so obviously manipulating science and public awareness of a potential health threat. Didn’t we learn the lessons of Big Tobacco?

Unfortunately it’s now a common industry tactic to form a front group that appears to benefit the public in order to infiltrate and shape a debate. These groups project authority as “experts”, fund their own pseudoscience, and deploy astroturf tactics to create fake grassroots campaigns.

Further reading — “Scientific American: What Can Be Done About Pseudoskepticism?

And you may remember, we recently saw a bunch of industry-funded front groups fight soda tax campaigns in San Francisco and Berkeley. And when San Antonio opened their health campaign to Big Soda input, the campaign was watered down and then killed.

As profiled in the new documentary “Merchants of Doubt” (based on the genius book of the same name) the biggest goal of corporate front groups are to obscure science by promoting uncertainty and lack of consensus among the public.

How does anyone take them seriously?

Because industry influence in food isn’t the exception, it’s the rule.

In 2015, the largest trade group of American nutrition professionals — the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics — currently list Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Nestlé, and PepsiCo among their sponsors. They are not financial sponsors in name only. Dietitians need 75 “continuing education units” (CEUs) and the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics have actually approved these industry groups to actually train dietitians that sugary beverages are essential to child nutrition.

Additionally, The School Nutrition Association — which represents 55,000 school food professionals — opposes healthier school lunches and accepts donations from Dominos, PepsiCo, and General Mills to fill kids’ lunch lines with junk.

Further reading — “Best Public Relations Money Can Buy: A Guide to Food Industry Front Groups.

Big Food influence isn’t just an American problem, a new 2015 study in the British Medical Journal exposed similarly close ties between British public health experts and the food industry.

Further reading: “British Medical Journal: Sugar’s Web of Influence

“I can attest that the sugar industry is especially aggressive in defending itself against any suggestion to eat less and is following the tobacco industry’s playbook.” — Marion Nestle

The Facts Are Clear

Big Sugar has something to hide. Namely that it’s sabotaging our health, and has been doing it for decades. They’ve figured out how to keep us debating and not taking action on the evidence against sugar and sugary drinks.

Uncovering damning documents gives us a glimpse inside strategy, but it’s not an issue that happened in the 60s. It’s happening today. We’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes for too long, which has delayed progress on scientific research and health policy. More studies will continue to pile up, just like the case against Big Tobacco. So what are we waiting for?

It’s time we take action to stop Big Sugar’s delay tactics.

Six Actions You TakeDo Today

  1. Stop parroting industry talking points. Health advocates should stop parroting industry talking points including “obesity is complex”, “no one sector can solve this problem”, or “focusing on one ingredient isn’t the solution”. While all technically correct, they are carefully calibrated statements designed to foster false agreement while diverting attention and accountability away from sugar. (Further reading: Why Food Companies Remind Me of Toy Story by Daniel Taber)
  2. Follow Dietitians for Professional Integrity on Facebook. The Facebook group is a great resource for ongoing egregious examples of Big Food influence, and they have a listserv as well.
  3. Support strong new dietary guidelines. The Federal Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee just submitted strong recommendations in their Advisory Report to the HHS and USDA. Over the next year, these agencies will decide which recommendations make it into the official “Dietary Guideliens for Americans 2015". You can click here to submit your testimony in support of their report.
  4. See the documentary “Merchants of Doubt”. Go see it if it’s playing near you and bring a friend. Or checkout the book by the same name.
  5. Join a local sugar tax campaign. Berkeley showed us that even if Big Food controls the halls of Congress, it’s possible to defeat corporate influence locally. Join a campaign that’s proposing a soda tax to fund public health efforts. If one doesn’t exist in our area, start one.
  6. Watch the WHO guidelines closely. A new set of bold WHO guidelines obviously didn’t go through an industry filter. It recommends under 10% daily calories from sugar and notes that below 5% (6 teaspoons) per day provides additional health benefits. Big Sugar will hate this. Follow the fight, they’ll need help staying strong in the face of opposition.

It’s time to take action!