Sugar studies should be taken with grain of salt

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

The nexus of science, politics and commerce has been in the news recently with topics like global warming, EpiPen pricing and even flossing of teeth pushing it to the forefront.

The EpiPen manufacturer backed off somewhat, offering a generic version and offering discounts after it political maneuverings and huge management bonuses were revealed.

Daily flossing recommendations were removed after it was revealed that they were backed by inadequate scientific studies, and global warming is a source of constant popular debate.

Most of us grew up believing breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but that idea was based largely on the Iowa breakfast studies, which involved only 50 people, none of them small children, for only two to four weeks. Oh, and it was a financed by a breakfast cereal trade group.

We shouldn't be surprised to read a New York Times article that reveals a sugar trade group paid three Harvard scientists the equivalent of about $50,000 in today's dollars to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease that minimized the link between sugar and heart health, instead casting blame on saturated fat.

The Times reported last year that Coca-Cola provided millions of dollars in funding to researchers to play down the link between sugary drinks and obesity, and The Associate Press reported that candy makers were funding studies that claimed children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who don't.

For the 1967 study, internal communication shows a top sugar industry executive exchanged memos with Harvard researchers to make sure the research came up with results that seemed to show dietary cholesterol and saturated fat were more to blame than sugar.

Conflict of interest rules and tightened up since the 1960s, but there is no shortage of "science" to support any particular product or cause.

We're hesitant to call for more public funding of basic research, but health issues such as diet, heart disease and cancer are appropriate places for tax dollars to be spent.

Tuesday's editorial "Voters have right to expect results from Hillcrest vote" should have noted that the county co-signed a loan for the nursing home in 2012, and Hillcrest has made the annual payment of about $223,000 every year. One payment remains to be made, in September 2017. The county took over some of the bond payment last year and will take over all of the principal and interest payments this year. The proceeds of the vote should have been listed as approximately $254,000.

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