Big Sugar and 5 Other Industries Pushing Junk Science About Your Health

French milk producer Bruno Gourdon, next to his cows, presents a box of homeopathic remedies which are backed up with little more than junk science

French milk producer Bruno Gourdon is next to his cows. | Thierry Zoccolan/AFP/Getty Images

We live in a world filled with misinformation and clever tactics designed to shape our thinking. From politicians seemingly speaking in code to corporate PR teams deploying strategic smoke screens, it’s hard to believe or take anything at face value anymore. For that reason, we see some people subscribing to conspiracy theories or accepting faulty information as fact — from the anti-vaccination crowd to 9/11 Truthers.

One way in which almost all of us are up against some tight-lipped and controlled PR spin is when it comes to our health. For example, what kind of responses would you get if you asked a dozen or so people this question: “Is milk good for you?” You’re likely to get some conflicting answers and see people armed with very bad information. And they’ll fight tooth and nail over their stance.

Corporate and government powers, often working in cohesion, have been doing this for generations — spinning false narratives or beliefs through junk science, particularly when it comes to health. The biggest and most obvious example of this from recent history is the tobacco industry, which said for years that cigarettes didn’t cause any health problems. We’ve also seen similar scandals from the fossil fuel industry in covering up climate change information. The fact is, big businesses and corporate powers put significant resources toward protecting their interests — often drubbing the truth in the process.

More recently, The Huffington Post reports, the sugar industry was caught having pushed junk science about the effects of sugar consumption going all the way back to the 1950s. But in terms of food and drink, the sugar industry is far from alone in this type of behavior. Here are a handful of examples.

1. Big Sugar

Hundreds of bags of sugar in a warehouse

The sugar industry is just one example. | D. Morrison/Express/Getty Images

We’ll start with Big Sugar, which was most recently under fire after evidence surfaced that research had been bankrolled by the industry claiming sugar wasn’t as harmful as it actually is. It was the same basic play used by other industries: Create a smoke screen (in this case, getting Americans to focus on low-fat diets rather than restricting sugar intake) and continue selling.

We know now sugar is incredibly harmful, and unrestricted intake can lead to multiple health problems. But the sugar industry fought reliable research for years, and likely will in the future.

2. The alcohol industry

Red wine and a corkscrew

This bottle of red wine might not be as healthy as you think. | iStock.com

Almost everybody likes to have a drink now and then, even though we know it’s pretty bad for our health. In fact, it’s very bad for your health — especially if you can’t drink in moderation. But many people will say alcohol can, in fact, be beneficial, citing a line that’s been circulating for some time about how certain beverages (wine, in particular) can help fight heart disease. As it turns out, that was a gross exaggeration pushed by alcohol trade groups and industry insiders.

Sure, a drink here and there isn’t going to kill you. But alcohol can and will cause some serious problems if you’re not careful. And exaggerating the so-called health benefits of alcohol consumption isn’t going to stop you from getting cancer or liver disease.

3. The meat industry

Beef and red meat at a supermarket

Eat red meat in moderation. | Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images

Americans have a love affair with meat, and a lot of that comes from some deeply ingrained beliefs in the wholesomeness and nutritional benefit that it provides. That’s not entirely incorrect, but the hard truth is we consume way, way too much — and it’s leading to some society-wide health problems. Research also shows it’s exacerbating climate change. The meat industry has pushed many ideas related to meat consumption for generations (mostly, the more you eat, the better).

As it turns out, red and processed meat consumption leads to heart disease, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. It’s even been labeled a carcinogen by the World Health Organization. You can still eat it, but as with all things, in moderation.

4. The dairy industry

A cow at a dairy farm

Too much dairy can lead to problems. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Staying in the barnyard, we now jump over to the dairy industry. Though closely associated with the meat industry, dairy producers are in a separate category and have their own trade groups and industry associations looking out for them. These groups have done so by pushing for more milk and cheese consumption (remember all of those “Got Milk?” ads?), touting the benefits of protein and calcium (strong bones!), among other things. Some of that is true — your body needs those nutrients. But, as Mother Jones points out, dairy consumption is also linked with many health problems.

Many of us grew up under the impression that milk was good for us, and that we should always have a glass to stay strong. Well, a lot of the science backing that belief isn’t quite as strong as it used to be. Studies have shown that dairy consumption leads to weight gain, and Harvard’s School of Public Health notes the saturated fats and cholesterol in dairy products also cause health ills in the long term.

5. Homeopathic remedy industry

Staff members at a pharmacy stock homeopathic remedie

Don’t be fooled by many homeopathic remedies. | Peter Macdiarmid/Getty Images

Homeopathic remedies can include just about anything. Things like herbal and natural medicines are very popular, but as the actual science shows, they’re mostly a big cash grab. Homeopathic remedies have been shown to perform no better than placebos in major studies, The Washington Post reports. Yet, it’s a huge industry, with plenty of junk science backing it up.

That’s attracted the attention of federal regulators, Bloomberg says, who are starting to crack down on some of those over-the-counter supplements and medicines that people shell out $34 billion dollars per year to buy. Again, it’s your choice as to whether or not you want to give homeopathy a shot at curing your ills. But just be aware that it’s an industry that’s been pushing junk science for centuries.