UCSF Sustainability Stories

Ana Toepel, Green Impact, December 2018

UCSF Food Industry Documents Archive: A Peek into the Food Industry’s Impact on Health Policy

Last month the UCSF Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies (IHPS) and the UCSF Industry Documents Library hosted an event to announce the launch of a new online library collection, the Food Industry Documents Archive. The open-access archive contains over 30,000 internal industry documents produced by food and beverage company executives that offer readers a unique peek into the food industry’s impact on health policy by exposing industry-funded research, marketing, and policy and revealing the connections between industry and regulatory organizations. At the launch event, Claire Brindis, DrPH, Director of the IHPS, expressed the significance of the archive by noting that it is “part of galvanizing a movement to create the meaningful changes we need for this world.”

Launch Event Spotlights the Significance of the Archive

The event introduced the audience to the features of the new archive, which, like the Poison Papers and the other documents collections in the library, was created with the principles of open science and transparency and intended for anyone concerned with public health or food policy to leverage for making change. It brings to light the ways in which the food industry manipulates public health by influencing scientific research, public opinion, and regulations meant to protect public health. Many of the documents in the archive relate to sugar-sweetened beverages and sugared snack foods and have been used as the source for a number of publications on the sugar industry’s impact on health.

The keynote speaker was Marion Nestle, PhD, Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University and author of a new book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, which includes information from documents in this archive. She has been collecting industry-funded food studies, demonstrating that sponsored research almost always favors the sponsor; of the 156 studies she reviewed, only 12 came out unfavorable. Nestle explained that industry funding typically requires proposals where the research looks for specific product benefits, so the results can then be used for marketing. She shared an example from the archive’s sugar industry documents of a Coke-funded study that claimed exercise was more important than diet as a determinant of health.

Several core faculty members at UCSF’s IHPS also spoke to the significance of the archive’s many sugar industry documents that show the way the sugar industry hides the harmful effects of sugar on health. Laura Schmidt, PhD, Professor of Health Policy, UCSF Department of Anthropology, History, and Social Medicine, shared several ways that these documents impact the world, including exposing scientific conflicts of interest (like Coca Cola sponsoring research at UC Colorado on childhood obesity), helping policy makers know where industry is going (such as Coca Cola’s game plan to fight soda taxes), and changing consumer behavior. 

Institute for Health Policy Studies Tackles Health Impacts of Sugar
UCSF’s IHPS is a multi-disciplinary community that translates research across disciplines and fields to inform health policy and contribute to the solution of health policy problems. The Food Industry Documents Archive is highly relevant to the work of the IHPS, specifically to its Sugar Science project and its work on UCSF’s Healthy Beverage Initiative (HBI). With the Sugar Science project, the institute contributes to and collects research that demonstrates how sugar negatively effects health and translates that research into action by supporting the HBI, which banned the sale of sugar-sweetened beverages on campus in 2015.

Dr. Schmidt, mentioned above, has conducted research on such topics as the relationship between sugar and obesity and the marketing of sugar-sweetened beverages to children. Speaking with Schmidt, she shared that her current evaluation of the HBI has shown beneficial changes in the most vulnerable employees at UCSF. After the implementation of the initiative, consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages by UCSF employees decreased by 25%, and overweight and obese employees showed improvements in health. Schmidt explained this is significant because 44% of the risk for diabetes is attributed to obesity. Schmidt and the UCSF team that worked on the initiative have been presenting these findings at other UC campuses and are actively working with the Office of the President to scale the initiative throughout the UC system.

In alignment with a strong commitment to sustainability, UCSF’s Campus Life Services and UC’s Healthy Campus Network worked with the HBI team to install water stations on campus in conjunction with the HBI. The intent was to support the community in substituting water for sugar-sweetened beverages in a sustainable way by encouraging people to carry their own water bottles and refill them. A plan to increase the number of water stations is in the works, along with a campaign to encourage people to use the water stations and a study of the positive impacts of the stations. Remember to stop by one of the 33 hydration stations next time you’re on campus and fill up.

Learn More

• If you weren’t able to attend the event, or would like to revisit the informative and engaging presentations, check out the video of the event here.

• Visit the archive and see firsthand the breadth and depth of the food industry documents that are accessible to the public.

Watch a presentation about UCSF’s Healthy Beverage Initiative on University of California Television.

• Learn more about San Francisco’s high water quality and filling stations here