More on food company sponsorship of nutrition research and practice
The American Society of Nutrition (ASN) is not the only nutrition society raising issues of conflict of interest (see yesterday’s post). The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (AND) is the subject of two recent analyses of this problem.
FoodNavigator-USA interviewed a number of people, including me, about the implications of these reports. Opinions differ, to say the least.
But here’s what I said:
Sponsorship perverts science
However, Dr Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard professor of nutrition, food studies, and public health at New York University, said it was wishful thinking to assume that companies that make their money selling soda and chips as well as water, juice and oatmeal could provide a “full” picture.
The issue, she said, was not whether FNCE delegates were capable of distinguishing facts from sponsored spin in conference handouts.
She told us: “That’s not the right question. Most people are unaware of how such things influence their opinions. Substantial research on sponsorship by tobacco, drug, and chemical companies provides such evidence. There is not yet as much research on the effects of food industry sponsorship but the few studies that exist are completely consistent with research on other industries.”
It’s stunningly easy to design studies that accomplish these goals
Asked whether it was unfair to automatically dismiss industry-funded research and information rather than judging it on its merits, Nestle said: “In my opinion, agriculture, food, nutrition, and health professionals should dismiss industry-sponsored research out of hand, and journals should not accept industry-sponsored papers.
“There is only one reason for food companies to sponsor research—so they can use the results in their own interests.
“Sponsorship perverts science. Sponsored research is not about seeking truth or adding to public knowledge. It is about obtaining evidence to defend or sell the sponsor’s product, to undermine research that might suggest that a product is unhealthy, to head off regulation, and to allow the product to be marketed with health claims.
“It’s stunningly easy to design studies that accomplish these goals and to conduct them in ways that meet the scientific criteria of peer-reviewers.”
She added: “Peer reviewers, journal editors, and readers ought to be asking: Why did the sponsor fund this study? Was the research question designed to permit an answer that might not meet the sponsor’s goal? Was the study conducted in a way that permitted an answer against the sponsor’s interest? Sponsored studies almost always fail these tests of independence.”
I think corporate sponsorship poses huge problems for the credibility of nutrition researchers and nutritionists in general. The issue requires much more discussion than it has received to date.
Let the debates begin!