Cristin Kearns, DDS, MBA


In 2007, I attended a dental conference that changed my life. I received a brochure from a keynote speaker representing the National Diabetes Education Program, which was designed to educate dentists on how to manage type II diabetics in their practice. The diet advice said nothing about reducing sugar consumption. A second keynote speaker distributed his “Stop & Go Fast-Food Nutrition Guide” which gave a green light to sweet tea (with 44 grams of sugar). When I challenged him, he told me “there is no evidence linking sugar to chronic disease.” Stunned, I began to wonder if the sugar industry had somehow influenced the information I received at the conference. Back home, I looked up a sugar industry website and found claims that over 1,000 scientific studies and multiple government reports had dispelled the links between sugar and chronic diseases. I reflected on my career to that point, and began to appreciate that, while addressing the oral health needs of individual patients is critical, that population health goals may never be achieved without addressing sugar industry influences.

In 2009, the same year that policymakers introduced the first round of the modern-day sugary beverage taxes, I had quit my job as a dental administrator and was combing through confidential sugar industry documents that I had discovered in a library archive. Clues from that first archive led to more document discoveries, and eventually to a postdoctoral fellowship in 2013 at UCSF, where I aspired to learn from experts studying the tobacco industry. I accepted a faculty position in the UCSF School of Dentistry and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies in October 2017.


I have worked to uncover how industry downplayed sweeteners’ harmful effects—influencing regulations, science, and federal policies—and withholding scientific evidence. 

My research has been published in high-impact journals, including PLOS Medicine, PLOS Biology, JAMA Internal Medicine, Science, and The Lancet. Our paper examining the role of the sugar industry in shifting the blame for heart disease toward saturated fat was the fifth most-discussed journal article out of 2.7 million tracked by Altmetric in 2016. This publication was featured on the front page of the New York Times, and led to a profile article in Time Magazine. This paper was also referenced by World Health Organization Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chan, in her October 2016 Keynote address at the 47th meeting of the National Academy of Medicine titled, “Obesity and diabetes: The slow-motion disaster.” She offered it in support of her argument that government officials, when creating preventive strategies, must be willing to take on powerful economic operators, like the food and soda industries. This work led to an invitation to speak to the National Academies of Science on “Building Trust in the Science of Nutrition” as one of six national experts.

I have published several articles examining the influence of the sugar industry on the dental profession, and the industry’s success in deflecting policy attention away from sugar toward non-dietary interventions for tooth decay. Due to this work, I have recently been named as a Commissioner on the 2020-2022 Lancet Commission on Global Oral Health. This new commission will highlight the need for changes in dental care delivery systems, for conflicts of interest with the sugary food and beverage industry, and it will develop ‘radical’ recommendations on how to overcome the dramatic inequities and gaps in access to oral health care. In 2019, Incisal Edge Magazine voted me one of the top 32 most influential dentists. 

I also serve as an external advisor to the International Association for Dental Research’s Science Information Committee and as an expert on the University of California Healthy Beverage Consortium and the California Oral Health Technical Assistance Center – which both provide technical assistance on sugar and health issues to the government and regulatory agencies within the state of California. 


  • Publish in professional journals to document industry influence on nutritional policies already in place 
  • Publish in professional journals to document industry interference/conflicts of interest in the science used for policy analysis
  • Apply understanding of tobacco industry strategies to the Sugar industry 
  • Identify and analyze challenges to state, federal, local sugar controls 
  • Establish and disseminate information included in the archives for further research by others


In November 2018, my document collection efforts culminated in the launch of the UCSF online Food Industry Documents Archive (FIDA). The FIDA is modeled after the UCSF Truth Tobacco Industry Documents Library, which revolutionized the field of tobacco control by making internal documents accessible to scientists, policymakers, advocates, and the public. Understanding the tobacco industry’s interlocking research, regulatory, marketing, and political strategies has allowed public health advocates and policymakers to anticipate and counter these strategies, leading to more effective tobacco regulatory science and control policies. We expect the FIDA to be a similar resource. The FIDA now contains more than 600,000 pages of sugar industry documents that are digitized and searchable, and it continues to grow.

Learn More


  • Sugar Science: The Unsweetened Truth
    • Blog posts from sugar scientists
    • Resource kit for local advocates (flyers, brochures, posters) to be used in schools and other community settings
    • Infographics
    • Social media graphics, videos, and guides