Added Sugar, Subtracted Science: Industry Obscures Science and Undermines Public Health Policy on Sugar

Executive Summary below, Read the Full Report


Scientific evidence suggests that the overconsumption of sugar—whether from sugar cane, sugar beets, or corn syrup—has detrimental health impacts. Yet, Americans continue to eat excessive amounts of sugar, often without even realizing it, while our current food and health policies fail to address this growing public health risk. Why do Americans not know how much sugar they are consuming? Why is the public largely in the dark about the harmful effects of sugar? And why haven’t we adapted nutritional standards and food policies in response to the scientific evidence?


This report explores how sugar interests—food and beverage manufacturers along with industry-supported organizations such as trade associations, front groups, and public relations (PR) firms —have actively sought to deceive the public and ensure that Americans continue to consume high amounts of sugar. Through the use of many of the same tactics employed by the tobacco industry, sugar interests from various sectors have intentionally worked to interfere with the science that links consumption of added sugars to adverse health effects by attacking the science and spreading misinformation. They have hired their own scientists and paid seemingly independent scientists to speak to the academic community and to the public on behalf of the industry and its products. And they have launched sophisticated PR campaigns to influence public opinion.


Sugar interests have attempted to influence policy in the direction of continued high consumption of sugar by Americans. Their lobbying dollars, political contributions to lawmakers, and influence on rule making at federal agencies have all contributed to a lack of effective federal and state policies that would address the public health concerns of sugar consumption. Decision makers seeking to enact such policies have faced uphill battles, as sugar interests, through a combined force of these tactics, have swayed our public policies on food, nutrition, and health. But solutions are possible, and a number of initiatives are already being developed and implemented in many places across the country.


With the public’s health as the paramount consideration, communities and decision makers need to adopt policies that stand up against political and corporate influence and are informed by the scientific evidence demonstrating the harmful health impacts of added sugar. Sugar interests should be held accountable by scientific and public health experts, investors, decision makers, the media, and the public for their current efforts to obscure the science on sugar and its detrimental health effects. Ultimately, communities should be empowered to make democratic decisions about their food systems and public health.