Is Big Sugar Corrupting Your Diabetes Management?

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Editor's Note: This article is a part of an Op-Ed series, “Second Opinion,” where patient experts share their take on current research, news, and trends in health and medicine. The views expressed in this article do not reflect the opinions or views of HealthCentral.com.

Sugar is sweet, but the sugar industry isn’t. It uses underhanded tactics that undermine the health of people with diabetes.

For years, the sugar industry has been complicit with the American Diabetes Association (ADA) in promoting sugar. Until 1994, the ADA told us that we should avoid sugar, which like starch raises the blood glucose of people with diabetes. But in May of that year, the ADA published a new position statement that focused instead on the total amount of carbohydrates in our diet. The ADA still recommends a high-carb diet of “about 45 to 60 grams” per meal.

The ADA’s complicity

In 2006, The New York Times exposed the complicity of the ADA in accepting money from the sugar industry. The ADA accepted $1.5 million from Cadbury-Schweppes, the world’s largest confectioner. In 2013, it accepted at least $400,000 from Domino Foods, a subsidiary of American Sugar Refining, the world’s largest cane sugar refining company. The ADA has relied on that industry as recently as 2014. It accepted $140,000 from Coca-Cola between 2012 and 2014.

AND’s complicity

Big food, including companies that rely on lots of sugar in the stuff they sell us, has also succeeded in buying America’s largest association of nutrition professionals, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND). The Sugar Association, the Corn Refiners Association, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Mars, and many other big food companies have been generous in their support of AND. It accepted $525,000 in donations from Coca-Cola in 2012 and $350,000 in 2013. In return, AND makes sure that its financial sponsors get their money’s worth, as public health lawyer Michele Simon thoroughly documented.

Consumers need to connect the dots — specifically to “follow the money.” Money talks, and the sugar industry tries to speak softly while carrying a big stick. It quietly slips money under the table to whomever has influence and more greed than ethics.

Harvard’s complicity

In September 2016, I reported here how the sugar industry corrupted three Harvard professors to play down sugar’s role as a cause of heart disease. Four years ago, Gary Taubes and Cristin Kearns Couzens exposed several other sugar industry successes.

But these deals happened years ago, when a few thousand dollars could buy good publicity for sugar. More recently, corruption has become more expensive and perhaps even more pervasive.

Coca-Cola at work

In 2015, a New York Times reporter, Anahad O'Connor, exposed Coca-Cola’s “purchase” of three leading professors. Coca-Cola is one of the largest sugar companies, selling the most sugar-sweetened beverages. O’Connor reported that the company donated $1.5 million to start the Global Energy Balance Network, which pushed the theory that lack of exercise, rather than what we eat, was mostly responsible for the obesity epidemic. A leading weight management researcher, James O. Hill, Ph.D., headed the organization.

Dr. Hill directs the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center, and co-founded the National Weight Control Registry, which follows people who have lost weight and kept it off permanently, including me. At his request, Dr. Hill in 2015 obtained $1 million from Coca-Cola as an “unrestricted monetary gift” to the University of Colorado Foundation.

Professors at work

In addition, Coca-Cola also provided about $4 million to two of the Global Energy Balance Network’s founding members, Steven Blair, P.E.D, F.A.C.S.M, a professor at the University of South Carolina, a leading exercise researcher, and Gregory Hand, Ph.D., who at that time was the dean of the West Virginia University School of Public Health.

These three leading researchers in March 2015 announced the formation of their (and Coca- Cola’s) Global Energy Balance Network in a British Journal of Sports Medicine editorial.

Publicity exposes corruption

Shortly after O’Connor’s exposé in The New York Times, the Global Energy Balance Network disbanded all operations, citing “resource limitations." The University of Colorado had returned the company’s generous $1 million gift.

People who have diabetes have to be especially wary about any claims by the many businesses that prey on us. While you certainly can’t trust big sugar, you also can’t rely on organizations and leading “experts” to reflect your interests. Most importantly, you have to rely on your own experience. That’s what counts.

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