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Document analysis shows influence of sugar industry on 1971 US National Caries Program

March 10, 2015

The sugar industry used several tactics to influence the setting of research priorities for the 1971 US National Caries Program (NCP), according to a study published by Cristin Kearns, Stanton Glantz and Laura Schmidt from the University of California San Francisco, US, in this week's PLOS Medicine.

The researchers analyzed an archive of 319 internal sugar industry documents from 1959 to 1971 (the "Roger Adams papers") and US National Institute of Dental Research (NIDR) documents to explore how the sugar industry sought to influence the setting of research priorities for the NCP. Their analysis indicates that, as early as 1950, sugar industry trade organizations had accepted that sugar damaged teeth and recognized that the dental community favored restricting sugar intake as a key way to control caries. The sugar industry therefore adopted a strategy to deflect attention towards public health interventions that would reduce the harms of sugar consumption. This included funding research on enzymes that break up dental plaque and looking into a vaccine against tooth decay, and cultivating relationships with the NIDR leadership. Notably, 78% of a report submitted to the NIDR by the sugar industry was directly incorporated into the NIDR's first request for research proposals for the NCP. Research that could have been harmful to sugar industry interests (specifically, research into methods to measure the propensity of specific foods to cause caries) was omitted from the research priorities identified at the launch of the NCP.

These findings, although limited by the researchers' reliance on a single source of industry documents and by the inability to interview key actors in the launch of the NCP, reveal an alignment of research agendas between the NIDR and the sugar industry in the early 1970s.

The authors say: "Actions taken by the sugar industry to impact the NIDR's NCP research priorities, which echo those of the tobacco industry, should be a warning to the public health community."
Research Article

Funding: This work was supported by the UCSF Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies, a donation by the Hellmann Family Fund to the UCSF Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, the UCSF School of Dentistry Department of Orofacial Sciences and Global Oral Health Program, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research grant DE-007306 and National Cancer Institute Grant CA-087472. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Competing Interests: The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

Citation: Kearns CE, Glantz SA, Schmidt LA (2015) Sugar Industry Influence on the Scientific Agenda of the National Institute of Dental Research's 1971 National Caries Program: A Historical Analysis of Internal Documents. PLoS Med 12(3): e1001798. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001798

Author Affiliations: University of California San Francisco, UNITED STATES


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