In 1995 I photocopied this ad from a 1966 issue of Time magazine. I was in grad school doing some research on the Vietnam war, and couldn’t help but notice it. It’s almost as over the top as the old Saturday Night Live fake ad for speed. I thought I lost the photocopy years ago, but found it in a box in my basement the other day.
If you can’t make out the “Note to Mothers” at the bottom, it says:
Note to Mothers: Exhaustion may be dangerous – especially to children who haven’t learned to avoid it by pacing themselves. Exhaustion opens the door a little wider to the bugs and ailments that are always lying in wait. Sugar puts back energy fast – offsets exhaustion. Synthetic sweeteners put back nothing. Energy is the first requirement of life. Play safe with your young ones – make sure they get sugar every day.
Of course, it’s the exact opposite of the truth:
Studies have shown that downing 75 to 100 grams of a sugar solution (about 20 teaspoons of sugar, or the amount that is contained in two average 12-ounce sodas) can suppress the body’s immune responses. Simple sugars, including glucose, table sugar, fructose, and honey caused a fifty- percent drop in the ability of white blood cells to engulf bacteria…[and] can reduce the ability of white blood cells to kill germs by 40 percent. The immune-suppressing effect of sugar starts less than thirty minutes after ingestion and may last for five hours…[and]…Sugar sours behavior, attention, and learning…
This got me wondering if these unhealthy effects of sugar were known at the time, so I did some looking around online. It seems like they weren’t, but of course, there was no scientific basis for all the claims in the ad, either. In 1972, Prof. John Yudkin published “Pure, White, and Deadly,” about the dangers of sugar, which promptly led to unjustified attacks on him and his work that ultimately led to the end of his career. At the time, the food industry was promoting a low-fat, high-sugar diet, so his research stood in the way of that. He wrote:
“Can you wonder that one sometimes becomes quite despondent about whether it is worthwhile trying to do scientific research in matters of health?” he wrote. “The results may be of great importance in helping people to avoid disease, but you then find they are being misled by propaganda designed to support commercial interests in a way you thought only existed in bad B films.”
I can think of some other areas where this is still the case today…