‘Most non-communicable diseases are spread by big corporations’

Pacific Standard reported in 2016: [Cristin] Kearns is one of the only people who have found evidence that cane- and beet-sugar manufacturers contributed to public-health problems. That’s thanks in part to her having worked as a dentist both in private practice and in a low- income clinic, which helped her realize something was amiss when conversations about dental health rarely included considerations of sugar. But it’s more a tribute to her doggedness, her willingness to comb through even the most obscure corners of library archives, and her persistence even in the face of a large and well-funded target.

She’s also unusual in the world of academia, where she’s settled for now as a research fellow at the University of California–San Francisco. Most folks who study sugar and health at universities are chemists, biologists, or epidemiologists. They examine sugar’s effects on the body, or they analyze data about whether people who eat more sugar are more likely to be in poor health. No other academic researchers study the secret workings of sugar refiners’ science campaigns.

But companies’ activities — including how they formulate their food, how their advertising and marketing affect what people buy, and their scientists’ roles in crafting nutritional guidelines — could help explain a number of major public-health problems. They could be especially important to understanding so-called non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease, which don’t spread from person to person the way cholera or the flu do.

“Most non-communicable diseases are spread by big corporations,” says Stanton Glantz, a public-health researcher famed for his analysis of tobacco industry documents in the 1990s, “because profit-maximizing behavior leads them to be out pushing products which end up causing disease.” Glantz is Kearns’ mentor at UCSF. “If you’re interested in disease control, in addition to understanding the detailed mechanics of how smoking causes heart disease or how smoking causes cancer at a molecular level, you’ve got to be looking up at what forces are out there that are promoting the disease because they’re making a lot of money doing it.”

Evidence of corporations’ influence on science can lead to certain policy changes that biological and epidemiological evidence alone cannot. “This kind of research is very useful to make the point that, yeah, you simply can’t have these guys at the table,” says Richard Daynard, an expert on public health law at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. Simply knowing that a product can be bad for people’s health isn’t enough to convince the governmental organizations to remove industry folks from policy discussions. There must be evidence of company wrongdoing too. [Continue reading…]

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