The BMJ Today: Sugar—a bittersweet topic

kristina_fisterTo paraphrase Forrest Gump, writing this blog is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re going to get. This Friday the 13th, I get sugar, a bitter sweet topic for someone whose mother has been sucrose-free for a quarter century, whereas I’m more like Forrest, I could eat a million and a half chocolates. 

I try to control this passion, but occasionally it pops up in most unexpected places. Like in weekly meetings where The BMJ’s research team decide which papers to publish. In Christmas 2013 we discussed a paper about the consumption of chocolates on hospital wards. As shameful as it may be, I’ll admit I got a little upset over some of the study’s shortcomings. Only the most perfect study could dare speak of her exalted highness—chocolate! Or so seemingly felt the child in me.

Interestingly, the final product of that peer review process turned out to be one of The BMJ’s most popular papers ever. Such is the power of chocolate. It’s such good stuff it can even improve one’s health. Perhaps all too often, though, sugar gets mixed in, and that’s when things may go downhill.

This week, The BMJ has published an investigation that takes a close look at the links between influential public health scientists and food companies that sell products containing large amounts of sugar. Jonathan Gornall looks at how this may be biasing the evidence base on the health effects of sugar, what happens with attempts to reduce the populations sugar intake, and what lies behind food companies’ downsizing their products in the name of calorie reduction.

“Conflict of interest in relation to sugar is an increasingly structural and complex problem, as it is with alcohol and other drugs,” write Anderson and Miller in a commentary linked to the four piece feature.

More needs to be done to tackle this complex web of influence, otherwise the answer to the question that Elizabeth Loder poses in this week’s Editor’s Choice—is science for sale?—might be affirmative.

Kristina Fišter is an associate editor for The BMJ.