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Nation is paying for the sugar industry’s effort to minimize effects on health

As Americans have painfully learned – and with children paying a potentially lethal price – the main culprit in weight gain is not fat, as many long believed, but sugar. And they blamed fat in some part because the sugar industry paid scientists to tell the lie.

That disturbing fact was revealed this week in newly released historical documents from the sugar industry. They show that in 1967, a trade group called the Sugar Research Foundation (now called the Sugar Association) paid three scientists – from Harvard, no less – the equivalent of about $50,000 in today’s dollars to publish a review of sugar, fat and heart research. It minimized the link between sugar and heart health, a link known today to be profound and dangerous. As the American Heart Association headlined a story from last October, “Added Sugars Add to Your Risk of Dying from Heart Disease.”

One jarring consequence of this deception showed up in Tuesday’s editions of The Buffalo News, which reported not only on the sugar industry’s effort to deceive the public, but on an increasing incidence of high blood pressure in children. As with high rates of diabetes in children, that phenomenon is the result of obesity, which is fueled in large part by consumption of sugar. That has driven up medical costs, including those borne by taxpayers who fund Medicaid and other programs.

Those conditions can cause lifelong – and life-shortening – challenges. High blood pressure in children can cause enlargement of the heart’s main pumping chamber and atherosclerosis, an arterial disorder that leads to heart disease and stroke later in life.

Diabetes can harm blood vessels, increasing the risk of heart disease, stroke, kidney disease and more. Children with uncontrolled diabetes can develop these issues as adults. They can also produce growth and development problems.

There seems little to do now about the collusion between the sugar industry and Harvard’s scientists. The individuals involved have all died and, at this point, research studies are more closely scrutinized and include disclosure of funding sources and other potential conflicts of interest.

What can be done, though, is to better educate families about the risks of sugar-heavy diets and to do more to move more Americans away from them. This is a matter not only of health and expense, but of national security: Military leaders worry that too many Americans are too fat to serve.

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