If Only This Awesome News About Candy Weren’t Funded by the Sugar Industry

Emails uncovered by the AP reveal a cozy relationship between university researchers and the business interests funding them.

Science says candy is good for me? Sweeeeeeeet. <a href="http://www.shutterstock.com/pic-142437043/stock-photo-colorful-candy.html?src=J99iX7dgNqEwXb6Zn1wnOw-1-14">Vorobyeva</a>/Shutterstock

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New emails uncovered by Associated Press reporter Candace Choi reveal the cozy relationship between university researchers looking into the health effects of sugary foods and the business interests that fund them.  

In recent years, sugar has emerged as a key driver in a range of diet-related health troubles dogging Americans, from diabetes and heart disease to obesity and potentially even Alzheimer’s. Publicity around these issues probably contributed to the steady decline in sugar intake over the past 15 years. While added sugar still supplies about 13 percent of the average American adult’s calories todaytoo much, according to the World Health Organization—the US Food and Drug Administration recently announced it would require food makers to disclose added sugar on their packaging in an attempt to curb the problem.

One study found that kids who regularly eat candy tend to weigh less than kids who don’t. 

What are the makers of sugary snacks and drinks to do in the face of such trends? As Choi’s reporting reveals, one answer may be to fund research by university scientists. Using Freedom of Information Act requests, Choi got hold of some of the emails of industry-funded professors working at public universities. She found some gems. For a 2011 study partially funded by the National Confectioners Association, a team made up of Louisiana State University and Baylor College of Medicine professors—plus a former Kellogg exec turned industry consultant—found that kids who regularly eat candy tend to weigh less than kids who don’t. 

Choi found an email from one of the study’s authors to another declaring the paper “thin and clearly padded.” Oops. And though the paper says “none of the funding agencies played any role in the design, analysis, or writing of this manuscript,” emails obtained by Choi from LSU “show the National Confectioners Association made a number of suggestions,” Choi reports. In one email, one of the authors wrote to another, “You’ll note I took most but not (all) their comments.”

The study’s authors defend their paper to the Associated Press:

Carol O’Neil, the LSU professor who made the “thin and clearly padded” remark, told The Associated Press through a university representative that data can be “publishable” even if it’s thin. In a phone interview a week later, she said she did not recall why she made the remark, but that it was a reference to the abstract she had attached for her co-author to provide feedback on. She said she believed the full paper was “robust.”

The piece brims with more examples of industry-funded research drawing sugar-friendly conclusions. Takeaway: Next time you read about a study that delivers sweet health news about some junky foodstuff, take it with a grain of salt.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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