For half a century, according to an expose published in JAMA Internal Medicine, research that would incriminate sugar as a major factor in coronary heart disease was “debunked” by researchers who were paid to ignore the science in the name of profit. The sugar industry’s internal documents show how corporate influence-peddling led to the obesity epidemic of today.

It began when the Sugar Research Foundation, now known as the Sugar Association, co-opted three Harvard scientists who, in turn, published a 1967 study in The New England Journal of Medicine that exonerated sugar but implicated saturated fat as the biggest offender in the standard American diet. It was such an influential study that a decade later, it was used to craft the forerunner of the government’s dietary guidelines.

Saturated fat became the villain, and sugar was able to skate by with only the mildest of rebukes as a possible factor in tooth decay because of its empty calories. Despite a growing body of evidence, sugar was not identified as a major risk factor in coronary heart disease in that 1967 report, though Big Sugar knew that unbiased research would have revealed the links and undermined the industry’s profitability.

Alarmed by the scientific indictment of saturated fats and cholesterol, Americans turned to low-fat, high-sugar foods for consolation. This compromised American health for decades to come. Today, there is little understanding by the public about how toxic sugar consumed in large quantities is to the human body. Sugar is now everywhere and in most processed foods.

The sugar industry would have us believe that it no longer engages in bribery to advance its interests. Even if this were true, five decades of misleading the American people about sugar’s links to heart disease is so unconscionable that it ranks among the worst of corporate misdeeds.