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The sugar lobby's crusade against dental health measures

Lobbying by the sugar industry has undermined the battle against dental caries.

The consumption of sugar, sweetened beverages and sweet foods leads to obesity and an increased risk of dental caries, especially in children. Yet confectionary advertising targets youngsters, especially on television.

Historical research in the USA shows the sugar lobby’s considerable influence on dental health policy. The researchers analysed previously untapped documents providing information on sugar industry lobbying.

Between 1959 and 1971, the US National Institute of Dental Research developed a national
10-year research programme aimed at eradicating dental caries. The sugar lobby sought to influence the objectives of this programme by allying itself with this institute and its experts. It developed its own version of the programme’s priorities, designed to divert attention away from the aim of reducing sugar consumption by focusing, for example, on research on a vaccine against tooth decay and enzymes to counteract the cariogenic action of sugar.

Lobbying was successful: the National Dental Caries Program launched in 1971 was largely in line with the objectives of the lobby and did not tackle the issue of reducing sugar consumption. And caries have not been eradicated.

Sugar industry lobbying did not stop in 1971, either in the USA or elsewhere. It also sought to minimise the role of sugar in obesity and cardiovascular health.

This historical research and a great deal of additional research show the industry’s ability to influence public health research priorities. As a result, decisions are made that put the interests of the sugar industry before that of the general public. Society must organise to protect itself from these influences.

©Prescrire 1 November 2017

"The sugar lobby's crusade against dental health measures" Prescrire Int 2017; 26 (187): 276-279. (Pdf, subscribers only).

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