Nutrition research studies funded by food companies are pouring in and here’s another set of five with expected results. The first one is notable for its extensive revelations, a case of TMI (too much information) if I’ve ever seen one. As usual, if you run across more of these—and especially industry-funded studies that do not favor the sponsor’s interest, please send. The roundup since mid-March: 60 with favorable results, 3 without.
Effect of Fructose on Established Lipid Targets: A Systematic Review and Meta‐Analysis of Controlled Feeding Trials. Laura Chiavaroli, Russell J. de Souza, Vanessa Ha, Adrian I. Cozma, Arash Mirrahimi, David D. Wang, Matthew Yu, Amanda J. Carleton, Marco Di Buono, Alexandra L. Jenkins, Lawrence A. Leiter, Thomas M. S. Wolever, Joseph Beyene, Cyril W. C. Kendall, David J. A. Jenkins, and John L. Sievenpiper. J Am Heart Assoc. 2015;4: originally published September 10, 2015, doi:10.1161/JAHA.114.001700.
- Conclusion: Pooled analyses showed that fructose only had an adverse effect on established lipid targets when added to existing diets so as to provide excess calories (+21% to 35% energy). When isocalorically exchanged for other carbohydrates, fructose had no adverse effects on blood lipids.
- Conflicts: The disclosures cover two full pages in the journal. These authors report every source of income—honoraria, prizes, travel funds—including those of their spouses. They apparently work for every food company imaginable, including any number with interests in minimizing a harmful role of fructose in health.
- Comment: I do not know why the editors of this journal decided that the conflict-of-interest statement was worth two pages of journal space. Perhaps they don’t think such statements necessary and were being ironic? Or perhaps they wanted to make sure that these highly conflicted authors were fully exposed? Yoni Freedhoff of Weighty Matters consulted an ethicist about this question but did not get a clear answer. I wrote the journal editor and asked what this was about, but have not received a response.
Beneficial effects of oral chromium picolinate supplementation on glycemic control in patients with type 2 diabetes: A randomized clinical study. Ana N. Paiva, Josivan G. de Lima, Anna C.Q. de Medeiros, Heverton A.O. Figueiredo, Raiana L. de Andrade, Marcela A.G. Ururahye, Adriana A. Rezende, José Brandão-Neto, Maria das G. Almeida. Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology 32 (2015) 66–72.
- Conclusions: CrPic supplementation had a beneficial effect on glycemic control in patients with poorly controlled T2DM, without affecting the lipid profile.
- Conflict: Manipulation Pharmacy Companhia da Fórmula donated the chromium picolinate supplement.
- Comment: Without knowing more about this situation, it’s not possible to say whether donation of a supplement is enough to raise concerns. This study raises questions because most independently funded studies of chromium and diabetes have shown minimal or no benefits (see, for example this one).
Oat consumption reduced intestinal fat deposition and improved health span in Caenorhabditis elegans model. Chenfei Gao, Zhanguo Gao, Frank L. Greenway, Jeffrey H. Burton, William D. Johnson, Michael J. Keenan, Frederick M. Enright, Roy J. Martin, YiFang Chu, Jolene Zheng. Nutrition Research September 2015 Volume 35, Issue 9, Pages 834–843.
- Conclusion: Oat consumption may be a beneficial dietary intervention for reducing fat accumulation, augmenting health span, and improving hyperglycemia-impaired lipid metabolism [in nematodes].
- Conflict: This research was supported by a nonrestricted donation from PepsiCo Inc. Oats used in this study were a gift of PepsiCo Inc. Y. Chu is an employee of PepsiCo, Inc, which manufactures oatmeal products under the brand name Quaker Oats.
A pilot study examining the effects of consuming a high-protein vs normal-protein breakfast on free-living glycemic control in overweight/obese ‘breakfast skipping’ adolescents. L B Bauer, L J Reynolds, S M Douglas, M L Kearney, H A Hoertel, R S Shafer, J P Thyfault and H J Leidy. International Journal of Obesity (2015) 39, 1421–1424; doi:10.1038/ijo.2015.101; published online 7 July 2015
- Conclusion: These data suggest that the daily addition of a HP breakfast, containing 35 g of high-quality protein, has better efficacy at improving free-living glycemic control compared with a NP breakfast in overweight/obese, but otherwise healthy, ‘breakfast skipping’ adolescents.
- Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest, but the study was funded by the Pork Checkoff.
Acute Cocoa Supplementation Increases Postprandial HDL Cholesterol and Insulin in Obese Adults with Type 2 Diabetes after Consumption of a High-Fat Breakfast. Arpita Basu, Nancy M Betts, Misti J Leyva, Dongxu Fu, Christopher E Aston, and Timothy J Lyons. J Nutr September 2, 2015, doi: 10.3945/jn.115.215772
- Conclusions: Acute cocoa supplementation showed no clear overall benefit in T2D patients after a high-fat fast-food–style meal challenge. Although HDL cholesterol and insulin remained higher throughout the 6-h postprandial period, an overall decrease in large artery elasticity was found after cocoa consumption.
- Funding: Among other sources, the lead author receiveda grant from The Hershey Company.
- Comment: This is a negative study (no benefit) with a positive spin (higher HDL, decrease in large artery elasticity).
Dr. Thomas Schlenker, who directs San Antonio’s Metropolitan Health, asked the City Council to support a “drink less soda” campaign.
The City Council said no. It fired Dr. Schlenker.
A representative of the Texas Beverage Association and Coca-Cola’s director of public affairs sit on the City Council and have veto power over its actions.
Maybe, but as Dr. Schlenker explains, Big Soda has donated millions to city government.
Says the Wall Street Journal,
One of the soft drink industry’s biggest challenges: constantly fighting the perception that soda is really bad for you. No matter how much money it spends on research or argues that exercise lowers obesity, the industry is playing a never-ending game of Whac-A-Mole. When it beats down critics in one place, they pop right back up in another.
Other cities, even in Texas, are looking for ways to slow down the rising prevalence of obesity. Cutting out sugary drinks is a great first step. Other cities should hire Dr. Schlenker.
There seems to be no end to such stories, many of which I cover in Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning)—officially out October 1 but being shipped right now.
Here’s one I didn’t cover.
2008: The U.S. Conference of Mayors (USCM) passed a resolution supporting “increased resources for cities to help combat obesity and fund obesity prevention, including consideration of revenues from the major leading contributors of the nation’s obesity epidemic, including calorically sweetened beverages, fast food, and high calorie snacks.” Translation: taxes
2010: USCM posted an article in its online newspaper about mayors considering soda taxes.
2011: The American Beverage Association (ABA) became a member of the USCM’s Business Council, and partnered with the group to start a $3 million childhood obesity prevention program. Would this aim to reduce intake of sugary beverages? Nope.
Instead, the program focused on:
- Promoting physical activity
- Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption
2015: The winning projects were:
- Jacksonville, FL, $150,000 for a youth initiative to make fresh fruits and vegetables available at a cheaper cost, and to promote physical activity.
- Seattle, WA, $25,000 to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among at-risk kids, through farm-to-table initiatives.
2015: Here’s what Scientific American says about all this (I’m quoted).
There is no mention in the application of decreasing consumption of calorically sweetened beverages, fast food, or high calorie snacks, which are all specifically cited in the 2008 USCM resolution as contributors to the nation’s obesity epidemic…The beverage industry seems to be obsessed with physical activity, as evident from the recent spate of stories about Coca-Cola funding studies that point the blame for obesity at caloric expenditure, rather than caloric intake. The science overwhelmingly does not support this.
Here’s the latest collection of 5 studies funded by food companies or trade associations, all with results that favor the sponsor’s interests. I’ve just reviewed them and found a couple of duplicates, so this is a corrected score. The correct score is 55 industry-funded studies with positive results vs. 3 with results unfavorable to industry—since mid-March.
I’m particularly interested in the unfavorable category. If you run across any, please send.
Jejunal Casein Feeding Is Followed by More Rapid Protein Digestion and Amino Acid Absorption When Compared with Gastric Feeding in Healthy Young Men. Joanna Luttikhold, Klaske van Norren, Nikki Buijs, Marjolein Ankersmit, Annemieke C Heijboer, Jeannette Gootjes, Herman Rijna, Paul AM van Leeuwen, and Luc JC van Loon. J. Nutr. 2015; 145:2033-2038 doi:10.3945/jn.115.211615.
- Conclusions: Jejunal feeding of intact casein is followed by more rapid protein digestion and AA absorption when compared with gastric feeding in healthy young men. The greater postprandial increase in circulating EAA concentrations may allow a more robust increase in muscle protein synthesis rate after jejunal vs. gastric casein feeding.
- Funding: Supported by Nutricia Research, Utrecht, Netherlands. J Luttikhold was employed by Nutricia Research; K van Norren is a guest employee of Nutricia Research; and LJC van Loon has served as a consultant for Nutricia Research. [Note: Nutricia Research is a subsidiary of Danone].
Higher Total Protein Intake and Change in Total Protein Intake Affect Body Composition but Not Metabolic Syndrome Indexes in Middle-Aged Overweight and Obese Adults Who Perform Resistance and Aerobic Exercise for 36 Weeks. Wayne W Campbell, Jung Eun Kim, Akua F Amankwaah, Susannah L Gordon, and Eileen M Weinheimer-Haus. J. Nutr. 2015; 145:2076-2083 doi:10.3945/jn.115.213595.
- Conclusions: In conjunction with exercise training, higher TPro [total protein] promoted positive changes in BC [body composition] but not in MetS [metabolic syndrome] indexes in overweight and obese middle-aged adults. Changes in TPro from before to during the intervention also influenced BC responses and should be considered in future research when different TPro is achieved via diet or supplements.
- Funding: Supported by the US Whey Protein Research Consortium (to WWC) among others. WW Campbell was a member of the National Dairy Council Whey Protein Advisory Panel while the research was being conducted.
Intense Sweeteners, Appetite for the Sweet Taste, and Relationship to Weight Management. France Bellisle. Current Obesity Reports March 2015, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 106-110 10.1007/s13679-014-0133-8
- Conclusion: While many of the existing studies cannot identify any causal links between use of LES [artificial, low-energy sweeteners] and appetite for sweetness, randomized trials in children and adults suggest that use of LES tends to reduce rather than increase the intake of sugar-containing foods and to facilitate, rather than impair, weight loss.
- Conflict: Parts of [this study] are extracted from a non-published document for which the author received an honorarium from the International Sweeteners Association (ISA). France Bellisle is a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for General Mills and has received travel reimbursement and honoraria for contributions in scientific congresses from Mondelez, ISA, and General Mills.
Impact of cocoa flavanol intake on age-dependent vascular stiffness in healthy men: a randomized, controlled, double-masked trial. Christian Heiss & Roberto Sansone & Hakima Karimi & Moritz Krabbe & Dominik Schuler & Ana Rodriguez-Mateos & Thomas Kraemer & Miriam Margherita Cortese-Krott & Gunter G. C. Kuhnle & Jeremy P. E. Spencer & Hagen Schroeter & Marc W. Merx & Malte Kelm & for the FLAVIOLA Consortium, European Union 7th Framework Program. AGE (2015) 37: 56 DOI 10.1007/s11357-015-9794-9
- Conclusion: CF [cocoa flavanol] intake reverses age-related burden of cardiovascular risk in healthy elderly, highlighting the potential of dietary flavanols to maintain cardiovascular health.
- Funding: …Additional funding was provided by an unrestricted grant by MARS, Inc…MARS, Inc. provided the standardized test drinks used in this investigation. HS is employed by MARS, Inc., a member of the FLAVIOLA research consortium and a company engaged in flavanol research and flavanol-related commercial activities.
Cocoa flavanol intake improves endothelial function and Framingham Risk Score in healthy men and women: a randomised, controlled, double-masked trial: the Flaviola Health Study. Roberto Sansone, Ana Rodriguez-Mateos , Jan Heuel, David Falk, Dominik Schuler, Rabea Wagstaff, Gunter G. C. Kuhnle, Jeremy P. E. Spencer, Hagen Schroeter, Marc W. Merx, Malte Kelm and Christian Heiss for the Flaviola Consortium, European Union 7th Framework Program. British Journal of Nutrition, September 9, 2015. doi:10.1017/S0007114515002822.
- Conclusion: In healthy individuals, regular CF [cocoa flavanol] intake improved accredited cardiovascular surrogates of cardiovascular risk, demonstrating that dietary flavanols have the potential to maintain cardiovascular health even in low-risk subjects.
- Funding: Additional funding was provided…through an unrestricted grant by MARS Inc. MARS Inc. also provided the standardised test drinks used in this investigation… H. S. provided test drinks on behalf of Mars Inc… H. S. is employed by MARS Inc., a member of the Flaviola research consortium and a company engaged in flavanol research and flavanol-related commercial activities. [The conflict statement also discloses that MARS employee H.S. shared responsibility for designing the study, writing the paper, and approving the final content].
- Comment: Lest the implicit (but never stated directly) “eat more chocolate” message of these studies be missed, Mars sent out a press release: “Cocoa flavanols lower blood pressure and increase blood vessel function in healthy people.”
On Fridays, I often post books I’ve blurbed or liked.
Today, it’s my turn. I can’t resist posting the blurbs for Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning).
- “The soda industry is a powerful economic operator. Economic power readily translates into political power. Soda Politics is exactly the kind of carefully-researched investigative reporting needed to open the eyes of the public and parliamentarians to the health hazards of what is, as the author rightly notes, essentially liquid candy in a bottle.” –Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General, World Health Organization
- “No book in history has so completely laid bare the soda scourge that touches every corner of the world. Marion Nestle shows how this happened, its impact on human health and well-being, who the players are, and, most importantly, what might be done. This is the right book at the right time.” –Dr. Kelly Brownell, Dean, Sanford School of Public Policy, Duke University
- “Marion Nestle is one of the greatest muckrakers of our time, and what she does is vitally important-for our health, our environment, and for future generations. Here, she wages war against the soda titans with such piercing clarity and so many irrefutable truths that all other arguments crumble.” –Alice Waters, Founder and Proprietor of Chez Panisse
- “Comprehensive and well-written, this book will help frame a thoughtful public policy debate about nutrition and the societal impacts and costs of obesity.” –Ann M. Veneman, Former US Secretary of Agriculture and Former Executive Director of UNICEF
- “What happens when the food industry’s most insightful critic turns her sights on soda? This razor-sharp, fun to read, plan-of-battle for one of the greatest public health fights of our time. Big soda may have all the money, but those who would enter this fray, as we all should, now have their champion.” –Michael Moss, Author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us
- “For decades, soda companies have amassed fortunes off drinks that are making us sick. It took someone like Marion Nestle to cut through the spin and uncover the high cost of cheap sodas.” –Robert Kenner, Director/Producer, Food Inc. and Merchants of Doubt
- “Long recognized as an important and informed voice in our national and international discussions on nutrition and health, Marion Nestle has written another book that will keep us talking. With an impressive combination of scholarship and advocacy, Dr Nestle takes an unflinching look at the soda industry, its products and the impact on health. Soda Politics deserves the attention of the public and policy makers, and should make us all think more carefully about choices we can make to improve health and well-being.”–Margaret Hamburg, M.D., Former Commissioner, U.S. Food and Drug Administration
Since mid-March, I’ve been collecting research studies funded by food companies or trade associations, and dividing them into those that come out with results favorable to the sponsor (50 so far–this is a corrected number) and those that do not (as of today, 3).
As always, if you run across others, please send.
A reader, Cole Adam, sent me this study on dark chocolate funded by a Finnish company that makes chocolate products.
Dark chocolate and reduced snack consumption in mildly hypertensive adults: an intervention study. Raika Koli, Klaus Köhler, Elina Tonteri, Juha Peltonen, Heikki Tikkanen and Mikael Fogelholm. Nutrition Journal 2015, 14:84 doi:10.1186/s12937-015-0075-3
- Results: Daily consumption of dark chocolate had no effects on 24 h blood pressure, resting blood pressure…or arterial stiffness. Weight was reduced by 1.0 ± 2.2 kg during the control (reduced snack only) period, but was unchanged while eating chocolate (p < 0.027 between the treatments).
- Conclusion: …inclusion of 49 g dark chocolate daily as part of a diet of mildly hypertensive participants had no significant effects on cardiovascular risk factors during 8 wks. Apart from a small effect on body weight (dark chocolate seemingly prevented a slight decrease in body weight during the control period), no other negative effects were observed.
- Funding: This work was funded by Oy Karl Fazer Ab. Authors declare no competing interests regarding this study. [Oy Karl Fazer Ab sells bakery, biscuit, and confectionery products in Finland, Sweden, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Denmark, Russia, and internationally]
Several points to note about this study:
- Eating 49 grams (just under 2 ounces) of dark chocolate a day may be fun, but it is not going to reduce your blood pressure.
- Eating 49 grams of dark chocolate a day makes weight loss more difficult.
- The authors do not view corporate funding as introducing competing interests. OK. Maybe not in this case, but this is a rare exception.
Another reader, who prefers to remain anonymous, sent this one:
Milk intake is not associated with low risk of diabetes or overweight-obesity: a Mendelian randomization study in 97,811 Danish individuals. Helle KM Bergholdt, Børge G Nordestgaard, and Christina Ellervik. Am J Clin Nutr 2015;102:487–96.
- Conclusions: High milk intake is not associated with a low risk of type 2 diabetes or overweight-obesity, observationally or genetically via lactase persistence. The higher risk of type 2 diabetes in individuals without milk intake likely is explained by collider stratification bias.
- Conflict: HKMB’s PhD project was partly funded by the Research Unit at Naestved Hospital, the Danish Dairy Research Foundation, and the Regional Research Unit in Region Zealand. [The population studies were funded by a long list of government agencies, health organizations, and foundations].
- Comment: This study says that high milk intake is associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, although it explains it away. The Danish dairy industry paid for part of the first author’s dissertation research. It looks like most of the funding came from independent sources, so this one is a bit of a stretch, but to be super scrupulous let’s count it as industry-funded.
NOTE: All three “negative” studies I’ve posted since March were funded by international food companies (the previous one was funded by the Danish Dairy Research Foundation).
How’s this for supermarket creativity!
Maybe if the Soviets had used a Tomahawk instead of a sickle?
Thanks to Maya Joseph for sending me this photo sent to her by Lillian Chou in China.
Sunday’s New York Times story on academic conflicts of interest focused on scientists with financial ties to Monsanto. The ties were revealed by open-records requests for e-mails and other information.
The Times was not the only one to make these requests. U.S. Right to Know, a group devoted to investigating Big Food and its front groups had already done so. U.S. Right to Know is funded primarily by the Organic Consumers Association, a national grassroots network advocating for organics, sustainability, and food safety—but against GMOs.
U.S. Right to Know rightfully takes credit for establishing the basis of the Times’ story. It sent open-records requests to scientists working for public institutions who seemed likely to have financial ties to Monsanto. Bingo. Some of the e-mails revealed such ties.*
But should government-funded scientists be subjected to open records requests? Couldn’t these requests amount to open season on academics—a modern-day version of witchhunts? This question is now under active debate (and see comments on my previous post).
While these debates are raging, here is one aspect of this story that the New York Times did not tell.
Earlier this month, Paul Thacker and my NYU colleague Charles Seife, wrote a piece for PLoS [Public Library of Science] Blogs arguing that Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests “for personal correspondence are not just appropriate, but crucial to ensuring transparency.” They argue that the benefits of transparency outweigh the costs.
But transparency laws remain a fundamental tool for monitoring possible scientific misbehavior. And it would be a mistake to believe that scientists should not be subject to a high level of outside scrutiny. So long as scientists receive government money, they are subject to government oversight; so long as their work affects the public, journalists and other watchdogs are simply doing their jobs when they seek out possible misconduct and questionable practices that could threaten the public interest.
Thacker and Seife explain:
Last week, Nature reported that the University of Florida had provided them with emails that U.S. Right to Know had FOIA’d on one of their researchers…the [Nature] story noted that the researcher has received money from Monsanto to fund expenses incurred while giving educational talks on GMOs. The article also noted that the PR Firm Ketchum had provided the scientist with canned answers to respond to GMO critics, although it is unclear if he used them [the Times story says he did but now regrets it].
The article does not report that the scientist has repeatedly denied having a financial relationship with Monsanto. The article also does not report on an email titled “CONFIDENTIAL: Coalition Update” from the researcher to Monsanto in which the scientist advised Monsanto on ways to defeat a political campaign in California to require labeling of GMO products.
Some readers of PLoS were outraged that this online journal would publish an article supporting open-records requests of scientists (see, for example, this from the American Council on Science and Health).
Here’s where things get interesting.
PLoS responded to the criticism by, of all things, retracting the article.
Seife and Thacker explained their views in an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times.
If the public pays your salary, citizens have the right — within limits — to see what you’re doing. That’s the principle at the core of the federal Freedom of Information Act and of the many similar state freedom of information laws… “snooping” on scientists’ inboxes by journalists, watchdogs and government officials has revealed significant problems that would never have come to light via other means.
That, of course, is the basis of the New York Times’ exposé of Monsanto’s funding of scientists to testify on the company’s behalf to reporters, Congress, and the public.
Bottom line: Because industry-funded science and scientists almost invariably provide data and testimony that favors the sponsors interests, the press and public need to know about sponsorship.
One more comment: A substantial body of literature exists on industry sponsorship of science, particularly on the effects of pharmaceutical industry funding of medical professionals. Conflicts-of-interest researchers conclude that such conflicts are generally unconscious, unintentional, and unrecognized by participants. The remedy is increased government spending for research, an unlikely possibility these days. This means journalists will be kept busy exposing the many problems that arise when scientists take industry funding.
*The documents collected by the New York Times