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Sugar Industry Influenced Research Priorities of National Caries Program

Sugar Industry Swayed Research Priorities of National Caries Program Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco recently revealed a campaign by the sugar industry to influence the scientific agenda of the National Institute of Dental Research’s (NIDR) 1971 National

Sugar Industry Influenced Research Priorities of National Caries Program

Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco recently revealed a campaign by the sugar industry to influence the scientific agenda of the National Institute of Dental Research’s (NIDR) 1971 National Caries Program. This discovery was reported in March by PLOS Medicine in the article “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.” This conclusion was reached through a historical analysis of 319 internal documents that examined the NIDR’s (now the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research) targeted research program into the causes of dental caries, the planning of which began in 1966. At this time, the researchers claim, sugar industry executives tried to befriend NIDR’s leadership in an effort to redirect the group’s research priorities and silence its investigation into the link between sugar and dental caries.

The research team examined documentation kept by the cane and beet sugar industry that spanned from 1956 to 1971 in an effort to better understand the industry’s actions related to the NIDR National Caries Program’s strategic planning. During this same period, research demonstrated that sugar consumption was a causative factor in the development of dental caries. As such, the sugar industry sought to shift the National Caries Program’s focus away from the role of sugar in tooth decay to focus on developing strategies to break up dental plaque and a caries vaccine. Sugar industry executives also forged friendships with key leaders within the NIDR and even issued a report that became the foundation of the first request for proposals issued for the National Caries Program. In fact, documents show that 78% of the sugar industry’s submission was included in the NIDR search for research applicants.

While these reports reveal bold actions taken by the sugar industry to sway the priorities of a publicly funded national program, the authors cite limitations in the research, mainly that the analysis relies on only one source. Furthermore, the researchers were unable to contact and/or interview the individuals responsible for making these decisions on behalf of the sugar industry, NIDR, or the National Caries Program. What is clear, however, is that the National Caries Program realized the importance of limiting sugar intake as early as 1971 but failed to develop a scientific understanding of the correlation between sugar consumption and dental caries until much later.

Hygiene Connection E-Newsletter

April 2015

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