by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sugars

Dec 20 2016

Industry-funded study says advice to eat less sugar is based on bad science (surprise)

I haven’t posted an industry-funded study for a while, but here’s a good one.  This is a systematic review published in the Annals of Internal Medicine attacking dietary advice to eat less sugar on the grounds that such advice is not scientifically justified.

This one doesn’t pass the laugh test.

What are dietary guidelines supposed to do?  Tell people to eat more sugar?

This review is particularly peculiar:

  • It was funded by the International Life Sciences Institute (ILSI), a food-industry front group.
  • Two of the four authors consult for ILSI, and one of the two is on the scientific advisory board of Tate & Lyle, the British sugar company.
  • The authors admit that “given our funding source, our study team has a financial conflict of interest and readers should consider our results carefully.”  No kidding.
  • It was published by a prestigious medical journal.  Why?
  • It is accompanied by an editorial that thoroughly demolishes every single one of the authors’ arguments.

I can understand why ILSI wanted this review.  Many of its funders make sugary foods and drinks.  They would like to:

  • Cast doubt on the vast amounts of research linking excessive sugar intake to poor health.
  • Discredit dietary guidelines aimed at reducing sugar consumption.
  • Head off regulatory attempts to tax or label added sugars.

In funding this study, ILSI is following the tobacco industry playbook to the letter.  Strategy #1 is to cast doubt on the science.

When the 2015 Dietary Guidelines came out with a recommendation to restrict sugar intake to 10% of calories or less, the Sugar Association called it“agenda-based, not science-based.”  The Annals review says international sugar guidelines do not “meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations and are based on low-quality evidence.”

I detect a theme here.

But I ask again: what are dietary guidelines supposed to do?  We cannot lock up large numbers of people and feed them controlled amounts of sugar for decades and see what happens.  Short of that, we have to do the best we can with observational and intervention studies, none of which can ever meet rigorous standards for proof.  So this review is stating the obvious.

Take a look at the accompanying editorial.  After destroying each of the flawed premises of this review, it concludes:

Industry documents show that the F&B [Food & Beverage] industry has manipulated research on sugars for public relations purposes….Accordingly, high quality journals could refrain from publishing studies on health effects of added sugars funded by entities with commercial interests in the outcome. In summary, our concerns about the funding source and methods of the current review preclude us from accepting its conclusion that recommendations to limit added sugar consumption to less than 10% of calories are not trustworthy. Policymakers, when confronted with claims that sugar guidelines are based on “junk science,” should consider whether “junk food” was the source.

I don’t ever remember seeing a paper accompanied by an invited editorial that trashes it, as this one did, but this incident suggests a useful caution.

Whenever you hear that something isn’t “science-based,” look carefully to see who is paying for it.

The press coverage

Dec 6 2016

GMO alfalfa, sugar beets, canola: U.S. trends

USDA has just released a report on the adoption of these three GM crops in the U.S.  Ordinarily, USDA just tracks corn, soybeans, and cotton.

Here’s a quick summary of trends in alfalfa (green), sugarbeets (red), and canola (blue):

Canola hovers at around 90% of total, sugar beets at 95%, and alfalfa (a perennial) is just getting started at a bit over 10%, but rising.

Why?  According to data summarized by USDA, yields are higher and herbicide use and labor costs are lower.

Oct 31 2016

Happy Halloween (or, as should be renamed, Candy Day)

Aren’t you happy that it’s that sweet, gooey time of year again?

Image result for halloween candy

As Julia Belluz of Vox points out

Candy and Halloween didn’t always go hand in hand.  It wasn’t until the 1950s that that candy industry started to push the stuff as a way to boost flagging fall sales.

 

The candy industry would love you to think:

Kids do love candy, as this marketing report tells us.  I’ll bet these favorites have everything to do with advertising budgets.

Does candy have a place in healthy diets?  Sure, but in very small and occasional amounts.

Good luck getting through tonight’s trick-or-treat.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

Oct 18 2016

Pepsi to reduce sugar in its drinks? Really?

PepsiCo, yesterday, announced that it had launched its sustainability report with an agenda for 2025. 

The sustainability promises look good, but reporters called me for comments only on the first goal in its Products agenda:

  1. At least two-thirds of Pepsi’s global beverage portfolio volume will have 100 calories or fewer from added sugars per 12-ounce serving.

For the record, the other Product goals are:

  1. At least three-quarters of its global foods portfolio volume will not exceed 1.1 grams of saturated fat per 100 calories.
  1. At least three-quarters of its global foods portfolio volume will not exceed 1.3 milligrams of sodium per calorie.

The reporters’ questions assumed that Pepsi plans to reduce the sugar in its full-sugar beverages.

Maybe, but that’s not clear from the press release or the report.

Here’s what I want to know:

  1. The baseline: What proportion of Pepsi drinks already have fewer than 100 calories per 12 ounces?  Pepsi makes loads of beverages that meet that target—Gatorade, bottled waters, diet sodas.
  2. The marketing plan: Will the marketing dollars shift from full-sugar to lower-sugar options?

I ask, because Pepsi’s track record on sugar reduction is not encouraging.  In 2009, Pepsi set a goal to reduce the average amount of added sugars in its drinks by 25% by 2020.

The result?  An increase in average sugars of 4% so far (Pepsi got into trouble with investors who wanted marketing focused on full-sugar beverages).

Pepsi’s sustainability report says the company is working hard to find ways to reduce sugars and “these efforts could yield significant progress.”   Let’s hope they do.

The report also explains how the company plans to reach its lower-sugar goal:

  • Reformulating
  • Creating new low-and no-calorie drinks
  • Making smaller sizes
  • Boosting promotion of lower-calorie drinks

I hope the company does these things, despite its unfortunate record on sugar promises.  We need to wait and see whether the company delivers on this one.

But I’m thinking: Surely this announcement must be designed to head off the ongoing soda tax initiatives.  Pepsi is pouring millions of dollars into fighting the taxes directly and through its membership in the American Beverage Association.

Pepsi wants to have things both ways: to appear to promote healthier beverages while it is fighting public health measures to reduce soda intake.

Let’s give the company the benefit of the doubt and hope it delivers on its promises—while doing everything we can to get those taxes passed.

Here’s one of the articles that quotes me:

The last time Pepsi tried to position itself as doing something for health, its investors got very upset,” Marion Nestle, a professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies & Public Health at New York University, said in an email. In 2012, investors got mad at PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi for focusing on getting revenue from healthy products, Business Insider reported.

“[PepsiCo] will continue to do everything it can to promote its most profitable products,” Nestle said. “These, alas, tend to be the ones with full sugar.”

Sep 12 2016

Sugar industry funding of research, 1967 style (with many lessons for today)

I wrote a commentary for a study published this morning in JAMA Internal Medicine: “Food industry funding of nutrition research: The relevance of history for current debates.”

The study, by UCSF investigators Cristin Kearns, Laura Schmidt and Stanton Glantz, is based on their archival research.  They found documentary evidence of shocking manipulation by the sugar industry of a Harvard review of studies on dietary factors and heart disease published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1967.

Kearns et al. discovered that the sugar industry trade association paid investigators at Harvard an impressive amount of money ($48,000 in today’s dollars) to produce research demonstrating that saturated fat—not sugar—raises the risk of heart disease.

In my commentary, I reproduced a figure from the sugar-funded 1967 reviews.  This summarizes the epidemiology showing that both sugar and saturated fat intake were then indistinguishably associated with increased mortality in 14 countries.

Nevertheless, the reviews exonerated sugars and blamed saturated fat.

Yes, I know that association does not necessarily mean causation, but I’m guessing that the epidemiology still shows that both sugars and saturated fats are associated with increased heart disease risk.

My interpretation: We would all be healthier eating less of sugary foods and fatty meats.

Here are the relevant documents for your reading pleasure:

The Sugar Association issued a response to today’s article by Kearns et al.:

We acknowledge that the Sugar Research Foundation should have exercised greater transparency in all of its research activities…Generally speaking, it is not only unfortunate but a disservice that industry-funded research is branded as tainted…We question this author’s continued attempts to reframe historical occurrences to conveniently align with the currently trending anti-sugar narrative, particularly when the last several decades of research have concluded that sugar does not have a unique role in heart disease.  Most concerning is the growing use of headline-baiting articles to trump quality scientific research—we’re disappointed to see a journal of JAMA’s stature being drawn into this trend.

I will post press accounts as they appear (I’m quoted in most of these):

Sep 6 2016

Sugar politics: San Francisco

My daughter, Rebecca Nestle, sends these from Valencia Street, San Francisco, August 2016.

There was this booth.

And this unidentified person wearing a great tee shirt:

Aug 22 2016

Catching up on soda politics

My book, Soda Politics, came out not quite a year ago but so much has happened since then that it’s been hard to keep up with everything that’s happening in campaigns to discourage consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Fortunately, Healthy Food America’s Casey Hinds puts out a daily roundup of sugar and soda news (you can sign up for it and HFA’s other materials here).

A few recent items of particular interest:

USA Today’s editorial, “soda taxes fall flat

More effective ways already are being used to change people’s diets. The best use of government authority is to empower people with the information they need to make healthier choices.

The editorial comes with a poll, still up.  You can vote on it here.  At this moment only 183 votes have come in, 51% strongly in favor of the editorial opinion.

Jim Krieger of Healthy Food America did a counterpoint

The time has come to tax sugary drinks like we tax tobacco. The analogy is powerful: As with tobacco, rock-solid evidence shows habitual use harms health. Sugary drinks are a prime culprit in rampant health problems — diabetes, obesity, and heart, dental and liver disease – that cut lives short and drive up health care costs.  Tobacco taxes have reduced smoking, while raising money to make lives better. Taxing sugary drinks would do the same

This too has a poll on which you can still vote.  Only 92 votes have come in, and only 38% strongly agree.

Americans don’t like taxes.  Even so, either this issue doesn’t generate much interest or it’s just August and too hot to think about such things.

 

The beverage industry spent $10.6 million to oppose Philadelphia’s soda tax initiative

The soft drink industry does not like taxes and seems willing to put fortunes into opposing them.

The Philadelphia City Council passed the tax anyway.  I keep thinking of all the good things nearly $11 million could do for public health.

Melbourne’s The Alfred Hospital reduces sugary drink consumption

The hospital did an experiment to see if they could shift the mix of drinks purchased from sugary to less sugary.  They did this by increasing the price of sugary drinks and hiding them under counters.  Sales of sugar-sweetened beverages sales fell by 36,500 drinks in a year.

I don’t get it.  Why not just stop selling them altogether?

That’s it for this August Monday.  Stay cool.  More to come.

Addition, August 23

A reader from New Zealand writes to say that “all of its hospitals no longer sell sugary sodas and some are also beginning to remove juice and artificially sweetened beverages due to their acidic nature and detrimental impact on oral health.”

Aug 12 2016

Sugar politics: weekend roundup

I can hardly keep up with news about sugar these days.  Here are a bunch of items that I thought worth notice.

Healthy Food America has produced a Sugar Advocacy Toolkit

Now is the time to act. Scientific evidence of the harm caused by added sugars is strong and growing. News stories have begun sounding the alarm. Some Americans are getting the message that sugar is unhealthy and are cutting back, but consumption remains high along with health impacts associated with overconsumption.

Corporate Europe Observatory has produced a report, A Spoonful of Sugar: How the food lobby fights sugar regulation in the EU.  Here’s how:

  • Lobbies for trade treaties that help undermine or overturn food regulations
  • Challenges regulation through legal threats, complaints, and deregulation drives
  • Works towards corporate capture of regulatory bodies
  • Emphasizes physical activity to avoid legislative action
  • Sponsors scientific research
  • Champions weak voluntary schemes
  • Lobbies aggressively and spends huge sums to combat effective regulation

Good news: A textual analysis of sugar industry influence on the World Health Organization’s 2015 sugars intake guideline shows that WHO mostly resisted the lobbying (here’s the entire paper).

There was little change between draft and final versions of the WHO sugars intake guideline 2015, following industry consultation. The main change was linked to emphasizing the low quality of the evidence on sugar’s adverse effects. Guideline development appeared relatively resistant to industry influence at the stakeholder consultation stage.

Britain’s Food and Drink Federation issued reformulation guidelines for small- and medium-sized businesses on how to reduce sugar and label sugars.

How’s this for a headline: Food lobby rigs EU sugar laws while obesity and diabetes spiral out of control.

Another headline: Big Sugar’s Fanjul Family Hosting Miami Fundraisers for Both Clinton and Trump This Year [The Fanjuls have long been equal opportunity funders]

From The Hagstrom Report

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Alexis Taylor, a high ranking Agriculture Department official, all committed themselves to the future of the U.S. sugar program today as industry officials and analysts talked about the struggles that beet producers and cane refiners are experiencing in the midst of imports from Mexico and the controversy surrounding genetically modified foods [Comment: recall that US sugar prices are higher than world market prices because of tariffs and quotas, and that every attempt to drop these measures has failed under lobbying pressures].

KIND bars are the first to label added sugars.  

As Grub Street puts it, all food companies are scrambling to reduce their sugars.

It will still be two years before nutrition labels have to get seriously transparent about their sugar content, yet it looks like the countdown is already starting to make Big Food squirm. Added sugar is both omnipresent in Americans’ diets and actively loathed for that very reason. So in May, when the FDA announced new labels had to disclose the number of grams, experts’ hunch was that many products were about to suddenly become a lot less sweet. This prediction was pretty spot-on, if Bloomberg’s new report on Kind is any indication: The snack-bar-maker just became the first company to start voluntarily labeling sugar content, and — surprise, surprise — there’s a lot less sugar in there.

Kind has launched a new website detailing nutrition information

Enough for now.  More to come.  Have a sweet weekend.