Big Sugar’s scandalous sweetheart deal with public health experts exposed
British public health experts issuing guidance on obesity receive hundreds of thousands of pounds from the sugar industry, an investigation has found.
Funding from companies including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo and Nestlé has flowed into scientific research bodies such as the UK’s Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) and the Medical Research Council (MRC) for over a decade.
Scientists whose work was at least partly funded and sometimes fully funded by the sugar industry include Professor Susan Jebb, the government’s obesity tsar.
Leading scientists blamed the government’s funding cuts for forcing researchers into the arms of Big Sugar, while one doctor told RT the findings were “disturbing.”
The report comes at a time when medical experts say daily guidelines on sugar intake are misleading, with the average Briton consuming two to three times the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended limit.
According to the BMJ’s investigation, one government-funded organization, the MRC’s Human Nutrition Research unit in Cambridge, received an average of £250,000 a year for the past decade from Big Sugar.
Other scientists received consultancy fees from Boots, Coca-Cola, Mars, Cereal Partners UK and Unilever. They have also sat on advisory boards for Coca-Cola, the Food and Drink Federation and the Institute of Grocery Distributors, the report claims.
Nutrition scientist Susan Jebb, who is the UK government’s adviser on obesity, received £1.37 million in industry funding between 2004 and 2015, according to the investigation.
This money came from food and retail companies including Cereal Partners UK, which operates under the Nestlé brand, Rank Hovis McDougal, Sainsbury’s, Coca-Cola’s Beverage Institute for Health and Wellbeing and Unilever.
In a statement published via the Science Media Centre, Jebb rejected the BMJ’s investigation.
“It refers to a series of studies in which I was involved which included funding from industry. None of these involve research into the effects of sugar on health,” she said.
“I have received no personal remuneration from any of these projects. All have been conducted according to all the MRC governance arrangements for working with industry and the industry involvement has been declared.”
Dr Aseem Malholtra, a cardiologist and Science Director at the medically led Action on Sugar, told RT the findings were “disturbing.”
“I think it's quite disturbing. I think the public would be appalled that the people advising them on what they eat are receiving money from the food industry.”
“We know that biased funding for research is one of the root causes of problems within healthcare at the moment. Whether it's food industry funding or pharmaceutical funding.”
Why an obesity epidemic? Because Coke & Sugar industry fund scientists who advise government! http://t.co/fPwZEDy9vg
— Mark (@Aussie_Sailor) February 12, 2015
Malholtra said the average UK citizen consumes 2-3 times the WHO’s recommended sugar intake.
“The labeling of sugar remains extremely misleading. The guidelines’ daily amount doesn’t distinguish between added sugars and what's intrinsic to the product,” he said.
“The current sugar labeling suggests one could consume 22 teaspoons of sugar a day as part of your daily amount. The WHO advice is for 6 teaspoons per day.”
“My question is: what are the scientists doing turning a blind eye?”
Former SACN chair Alan Jackson blamed the government’s research funding cuts for pushing scientist towards industry money.
Universities are estimated to have lost over £460 million in government research funding between 2009-10 and 2012-13, a financial burden which has seen them turn to business for over £2 billion over the past decade.
Jackson said scientists were encouraged by the government to develop a “mixed portfolio of support” for their research which explicitly included help from industry.
“So most, if not all, researchers will have some form of industry support and funding and hence have potential conflicts of interest,” he told the BMJ.
“By the very nature of its complex roots and wide interdisciplinary engagement nutrition has particular vulnerabilities in this regard, but it is by no means unique to nutrition.”