Title: 0775 - Industry Strategies Limiting Sugar Restriction Policy Diffusion in the 1970s


Cristin Kearns (Presenter)
University of California San Francisco

Dorie Apollonio, University of California San Francisco


Objectives: The U.S. Sugar Association (SA) won the Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Silver Anvil Award in 1976 for a communication campaign that successfully limited the diffusion of sugar restriction policies to control obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and dental caries. The objective of this study was to describe factors that influenced the campaign's successful implementation.

Methods: We conducted a thematic content analysis, based on constructs from Roger's diffusion of innovations theory, on internal SA documents related to the 1976 Silver Anvil Award contained in 1) the PRSA Records, Wisconsin Historical Society (80 documents), 2) the Great Western Sugar Company Records, Colorado State University (225 documents), and 3) the William Jefferson Darby Papers, Eskind Biomedical Library Special Collections, Vanderbilt University Medical Center (45 documents).

Results: Dominant themes influencing the successful implementation of SA’s communication campaign were: planning (audience segmentation, formative research); message development (tailoring, creating awareness and principles knowledge); communication channels (selective use of scientific media, news media, interpersonal communication); message delivery (use of change agents, targeting of opinion leaders – e.g. physicians, dentists, nutritionists, dietitians, government health officials, teachers, food editors, and science writers); change agent efforts (contacting opinion leaders, compatible with opinion leaders’ needs, increasing opinion leaders' ability to favorably evaluate sugar’s role in disease), and change agent characteristics (homophily with opinion leaders, credibility in opinion leaders’ eyes).

Conclusions: The same factors that allowed SA to limit the diffusion of sugar restriction policies in the 1970s are relevant in the 21st century as the public health community seeks to adopt sugar restriction policies. SA used sophisticated communication strategies that concealed the campaign’s source and persuaded government health officials, physicians, dentists, nutritionists, dietitians, and food editors to reject sugar restriction policies for disease control. It is likely that SA and related trade organizations continue to use similar strategies.

This abstract is based on research that was funded entirely or partially by an outside source:
The Laura and John Arnold Foundation

Disclosure Statement:
The submitter must disclose the names of the organizations with which any author have a relationship, the nature of the relationship, and the clinical or research area involved. The following is submitted: NONE