The British Medical Journal has published a report associating extensive links between the sugar industries and public health scientists who have enormous influence over public health organizations. The report has international relevance as many of the food and drink manufacturers have a global manufacturing and import and export basis.
“Several of the big companies who have been seeking influence over public health organizations and researchers in the UK are headquartered in the US,” said Jonathan Gornell, “where the impact can only be magnified in their favor.”
The influence is mainly funding based including evidence of a government committee working on nutritional advice receiving funding from companies whose products are considered by many to be responsible for the ongoing obesity crisis. The sugar industry has pledged to assist the UK government to reach a 5% national reduction in calorie consumption.
Members of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research unit (HNR) have received funding from sugar giants including Coca-Cola, Mars, Nestlé, Sainsbury’s, the Institute of Brewing and Distilling and Weight Watchers International, among others.
The funding amounts are not minimal with one former HNR researcher (Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at the University of Oxford and chair of the British government’s Responsibility Deal Food Network_ receiving funding worth $2.10 million from companies such as Coca-Cola between 2004 and 2015. Coca-Colas also donated $ 297,000 to Prof. Webb’s research for one study.
The BMJ report determined that over a decade of funding from the sugar industry has been used to fund scientists involved with the research unit. Scientists working on Medical Research Council (MRC) projects have received research funding from organisations including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, Weight Watchers International, NutriLicious (a public relations firm specialising in conveying “nutrition and health messages” for the food industry), Sainsbury’s, W K Kellogg Institute, and GlaxoSmithKline.
Others have received funding disguised as consultancy fees from Boots, Coca-Cola, Cereal Partners UK, Mars, and Unilever Foods. They have also sat on advisory boards for Coca-Cola, the Food and Drink Federation, and the Institute of Grocery Distributors.
Figures obtained as a result of information requests suggest industry funding of the work of scientists in the Human Nutrition Research unit alone may have averaged close to £250 000 (€330 000; $380 000) a year for the past decade. Industry funding for the three years from 2010 to 2012 totalled £697 469, peaking at £380 874 in 2010—5% of the unit’s total income for that year.
The association with the sugar industry on the surface raises credibility concerns as the pulbic health researchers have considerable influence over public health policy and information dissemination.
Sugar: spinning a web of influence, Jonathan Gornall, The BMJ, doi: 10.1136/bmj.h231, published online 11 February 2015.