The association gained broader public attention in 2016 for nutrition research that its Research Foundation executive, John Hickson, had commissioned in the mid-1960s. Three Harvard University scientists including D. Mark Hegsted, later a USDA official, and Frederick J. Stare, the chairman of the university’s nutrition department, were paid an undisclosed $6,500 (nearly $50,000 in 2016 equivalent dollars) to produce a review of industry-selected research. The resulting paper in the New England Journal of Medicine "minimized the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat [by saying fat was primarily causing heart problems]". The paper helped to shape nutrition guidance for decades away from even considering the dangers to the heart of sugar and its role in obesity in the human diet. In September, 2016, a study of this history, reviewing thousands of pages of documents from archives at Harvard, the University of Illinois and other libraries, was published by C.E. Kearns, L.A. Schmidt and Stanton Glantz, (Glantz a professor of medicine at UCSF), in JAMA Internal Medicine. The sugar industry was "able to derail the discussion about sugar for decades,” Glantz was quoted as saying in The New York Times. Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, wrote separately in support of the 2016 JAMA article that there was “compelling evidence” that the sugar industry initiated research “expressly to exonerate sugar as a major risk factor for coronary heart disease.” The Sugar Association responded to the 2016 JAMA publications saying standards of disclosure and conflict of interest were non-existent or less stringent in the 1960s and that "most concerning is the growing use of headline-baiting articles to trump quality scientific research .... We’re disappointed to see a journal of JAMA’s stature being drawn into this trend.” The New England Journal of Medicine began to require financial disclosures in 1984.
Other research efforts by major dietary-sugar corporate interests -- soft drinks and candy—similarly have been found to be considerably more likely for instance to "find no link between sugary drinks and weight gain" according to a 2015 report in the New York Times. This earlier New York Times report also noted that "a review of beverage studies, published in the journal PLOS Medicine, found that those funded by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, the American Beverage Association and the sugar industry were five times more likely to find no link between sugary drinks and weight gain than studies whose authors reported no financial conflicts."
The Harvard scientists and the sugar executives with whom they collaborated are no longer alive. One of the scientists who was paid by the sugar industry was D. Mark Hegsted, who went on to become the head of nutrition at the United States Department of Agriculture, where in 1977 he helped draft the forerunner to the federal government’s dietary guidelines. Another was Dr. Fredrick J. Stare, the chairman of Harvard’s nutrition department.
- O'Connor, Anahad, "How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat", The New York Times, September 12, 2016. Retrieved 2016-09-12.
- Kearns, CE; Schmidt, LA; Glantz, SA (12 September 2016). "Sugar Industry and Coronary Heart Disease Research: A Historical Analysis of Internal Industry Documents". JAMA Internal Medicine. 176: 1680–1685. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5394. PMC 5099084. PMID 27617709.
- Nestle, Marion (12 September 2016). "Food Industry Funding of Nutrition Research: The Relevance of History for Current Debates". JAMA Internal Medicine. 176: 1685. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.5400. PMID 27618496.
- O'Connor, Anahad, "Coca-Cola Funds Scientists Who Shift Blame for Obesity Away From Bad Diets", The New York Times, August 9, 2015. Retrieved 2016-09-13.
- Bes-Rastrollo, M; Schulze, MB; Ruiz-Canela, M; Martinez-Gonzalez, MA (December 2013). "Financial conflicts of interest and reporting bias regarding the association between sugar-sweetened beverages and weight gain: a systematic review of systematic reviews". PLOS Medicine. 10 (12): e1001578, discussion e1001578. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001578. PMC 3876974. PMID 24391479.
- O’connor, Anahad (2016-09-12). "How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2017-07-21.