Skip to main content

A New Review, Funded by Food Companies, Calls Recommended Sugar Limits Untrustworthy

This isn’t the first time a company has paid for university scientists to write a review, which are uniquely important to policymaking.

By Francie Diep


(Photo: Jeffrey Smith/Flickr)

A new review that criticizes past research advising people to consume less sugar has itself come under attack, the New York Times reports, because its authors were funded by a group that’s mostly made up of large food and agriculture companies.

“Guidelines on dietary sugar do not meet criteria for trustworthy recommendations and are based on low-quality evidence,” the review concluded. But outside scientists contend this claim is unsound. “They ignored the real data, created false scores, and somehow got through a peer review system that I cannot understand,” Barry Popkin, a nutrition professor at the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, told the Times.

The review was published at a time when national and international groups are offering fresh recommendations that people limit how much added sugar they eat. It appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine, which disclosed the authors’ funding source and printed an editorial alongside the review that criticized the review’s methods.

This is not the first time a food-industry group has paid for a review in a prestigious scientific journal. Earlier this year, archives researcher Cristin Kearns—a co-author in the Annals editorial — reported that, in 1965, a sugar manufacturers’ association gave the equivalent of nearly $50,000 to three Harvard University nutritionists to pen a review about the foods Americans should eat to prevent heart disease. That paper suggested people avoid saturated fat and cholesterol, but not sugar.

Interest groups may target reviews, which are supposed to summarize the state of the science.“Systematic reviews are highly influential in policymaking,” Kearns told Pacific Standard in September. Doctors and lawmakerswho lack time or expertise may turn to reviews as a source of information, but it could take another layer of know-how to tease out the implications of those reviews.