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May 13, 2022

Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Sugar Information Inc. Ran Ads to Educate People About the Dietary Benefits of Sugar

There are some methods to the madness!

The path toward the now-strange advertisements began in the mid-1950s, as health researchers spread the word that sugar could lead to weight gain. In response, the industry increased its advertising budget. (Sugar Information, Inc., even won an award in 1955 for “advertising in the public interest.”) That process ramped up in the mid-1960s, particularly as diet sodas began to increase their position in the market. Consumers should know, the sugar group countered in its ads, that diet sodas would not help consumers lose weight, because they were not satisfying or energizing in the same way that full-sugar drinks were.

The advertising campaign was largely based on the mid-century health concept of the “appestat,” an idea defined by a New York City nutritionist for a 1952 weight-loss book. A problem with “the individual’s appetite-regulating mechanism” could leave people unsatisfied and thus likely to overeat. Real sugar—as opposed to replacements—could turn down the appestat while also providing energy.

By December of 1971, however, the Federal Trade Commission stepped in to put a stop to the ads, citing the fact that though the ads suggested that eating more sugar would mean eating fewer calories overall, that was not true. (It was during this period that the FTC began asking advertisers to provide proof that their claims were true.) The Sugar Association responded initially that the ads were actually full of good health advice, which the FTC was simply misreading—but by the middle of 1972, the sugar industry group had agreed, while not conceding the FTC’s point, to spend upwards of $150,000 to run ads that clarified the earlier campaign.


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