We have all been admonished for years not to believe everything we read on the Internet (excluding Mister Boomer’s posts, of course). The prevalence of inflated studies and the outright fabrication of “facts” has cast a veil of uncertainty over all aspects of medicine, nutrition, parenting, climate change and of course, politics. Recently Mister Boomer read some articles that made it clear these practices are far from new and original; in fact, the disinformation factories were alive and well during our Boomer Years.
How the cigarette industry withheld evidence and obfuscated facts and statics for decades are now known to be of the highest degree of impropriety. Mister Boomer has chronicled the case of how the dairy industry got milk into schools and every boomer household after the War (see Boomers Were Milked for All They Were Worth). In 2016, it was revealed that the sugar industry had its hands in sweetening the pot on the effects of sugar, particularly on heart disease and obesity.
The Sugar Research Foundation (SRF, now known as the Sugar Association) was established by the sugar industry in the 1950s to further the spread of their product by extolling its benefits, based on studies performed by preeminent scientists. Unfortunately, this was a time when the funding sources of research findings did not have to be disclosed, and in fact, many industries (i.e., tobacco, automotive, etc.) funded the studies themselves. In 2016 when a post-doctoral researcher at the University of California San Francisco discovered thousands of pages that documented how John Hickson, president of the SRF, paid three scientists $6,500 each in 1964 to shape their data on sugar in order to “minimize the link between sugar and heart health and cast aspersions on the role of saturated fat.” As a result, based on the findings of the SRF report released in 1967 in the New England Journal of Medicine, national policies for nutrition have for decades placed more blame on fat than on sugar’s role in heart disease. At the same time, the SRF was courting scientists with research that would blur the lines between sugar and tooth decay, something that had been known since the 1950s among dental researchers. Negative reports were successfully suppressed for more than a decade.
Likewise, other findings have shown the candy and soft drink industries have attempted to put out their own studies. Like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars, waving his hand and suggesting “These aren’t the droids you are looking for,” their findings stated directly that there was no link found between sugar and weight gain.
A look back to our Boomer Days shows the effects of these campaigns. Some historians have written that the public was poised and predisposed to accept such a disinformation campaign. Sugar was such a rare commodity in Colonial times that furniture pieces were created with locked drawers to hold the precious stuff. By the time of the Great Depression, boomer grandparents could not afford sugar, then during World War II, sugar was rationed. It seemed only natural that the Greatest Generation, enjoying post-war freedom and new-found prosperity, would cause the sugar pendulum to swing in the other direction. Their swings were given that extra push. Baby Boomers became the recipients of this sugar bonanza. The spread of television assisted the sugar campaigns with commercials airing during Saturday morning cartoons that relied heavily on sugar-laden cereals and sweet drinks. Boomers will recall how Kool-Aid commercials showed kids making the sweet drink by pouring in cups — not tablespoons — of sugar per pitcher.
While the industry was not afraid to place the word “sugar” front and center in their advertising with products like Sugar Pops, Sugar Crisps (remember Sugar Bear?), Sugar Frosted Flakes and Sugar Smacks, at the same time throughout the 1950s and ’60s, parent-based magazine and TV ads concentrated on the benefits of sugar as an energy source. At various times, the sugar, candy and soft drink industries produced ads that stated:
- Kids need the kind of energy that sugar provides (Despite knowing sugar-based energy could be obtained through many types of fruits and vegetables)
- Sugar can help control appetite and weight in diets (They accomplished this with a campaign comparing the amount of calories in common foods like apples to one teaspoon of sugar; of course, we know now calories aren’t the whole story in weight gain and nutrition)
- We like sugar because it is instinctual for us to like sweet tastes (But they failed to mention that they would exploit that sweet craving throughout the Boomer Generation and increase the use of sugars in processed foods)
Mister Boomer has written that generally speaking, the boomers he knew did not have candy on a regular basis at home, other than at holidays (or visits to grandma). However, the sprinkling of some sugar on cereal, dessert fruit, in coffee (for kids who drank coffee) and in drinks like Kool-Aid were “authorized” uses of sugar in most boomer households. There were a few years where Mister Boomer and his neighbor friends got their summer candy money by redeeming soda pop bottles. If the bottle harvest was good on a hot day, 10 cents would buy a sweet treat in the form of an 8 oz. bottle of Coke from the Sinclair gas station vending machine.
So, what are parents and grandparents supposed to do, knowing what we know about sugar now? Mister B posits that perhaps advice from the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle is most apropos: “The virtue of Justice consists in moderation, as regulated by wisdom.”
What was your family’s attitude toward sugar, boomers?