by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sponsored-research

Jan 29 2019

My latest honor: “Crankster!”

I don’t usually pay attention to what the American Council for Science and Health (ACSH) says or does, mainly because it is a long-standing front group for the food and chemical industries, and it predictably supports the interests of those industries over public health (see US Right to Know’s analysis).

But then I read this from the Center on Media and Democracy: Corporate Front Group, American Council on Science and Health, Smears List of Its Enemies as “Deniers for Hire.”

Smeared by the site are scientists Tyrone Hayes, Stephanie Seneff, and Gilles-Éric Séralini; New York Times reporter Danny Hakim and columnist Mark Bittman; well-known food and science writer Michael Pollan; nutrition and food studies professor Marion Nestle; public interest groups like U.S. Right to Know, Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Sierra Club, the Environmental Working Group, and Union of Concerned Scientists; past and present CMD staff, and many other individuals ACSH does not like.

Clearly, I’m in good company.  But what, exactly, have I—a “Crankster,” apparently—done to deserve this honor?  It seems that I:

What can I say?  Read my work and decide for yourself if such concerns are justified.

Jan 21 2019

Industry-funded request of the week: prove peanuts healthy

Peanuts are delicious when freshly roasted—I always keep some on hand—and they are highly nutritious, despite their calories.

But the peanut industry must not think sales are high enough (oh those sales-inhibiting peanut allergies).

Its trade group, The Peanut Institute, has issued a Call for Research Proposals.

We are currently requesting human peanut nutrition research proposals with an emphasis on the effect of consuming peanuts, peanut butter, and other peanut products on: (1) cognition/brain health, (2) chronic disease risk and outcomes, (3) diet quality, and (4) gut microbiome in various populations. Other research areas that increase the understanding of peanut consumption and human health are encouraged. All novel and noteworthy proposals that advance the health and wellness message of peanuts will be reviewed [my emphasis].

The Peanut Institute is not interested in funding open-ended research exploring the effects of peanuts on health.

Instead, it intends only to consider proposals designed to prove benefits.  This is marketing research, not basic science.

As I demonstrated in Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, the basic observation is this: industry-funded research almost always favors the sponsor’s product.

I discuss similar requests from other trade groups in that book.  Guess what.  The funders usually get what they ask for.

Jan 7 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Mediterranean diet plus dairy foods

Christopher Gardner, the Stanford scientist who studies the ways various dietary patterns affect body weight, sent me this study to add to my post-book collection (I wrote about such things in Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, just out).

Soon after Dr. Gardner sent this to me, I read about this study in DairyReporter.com.  Its account had this headline: “Mediterranean diet with added dairy shown to improve heart health in Australia.”  It said nothing about funding source (it should have).

The study:

Title: A Mediterranean diet supplemented with dairy foods improves markers of cardiovascular risk: results from the MedDairy randomized controlled trial.  Alexandra T Wade, Courtney R Davis, Kathryn A Dyer, Jonathan M Hodgson, Richard J Woodman, and Karen J Murphy.  Am J Clin Nutr 2018;108:1166–1182.

Rationale: The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) “may not meet Western recommendations for calcium and dairy intake.”  Translation: Australians don’t eat enough dairy foods.

Objective: Determine the effect of a MedDiet supplemented with dairy foods (MedDairy) on blood pressure and other risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Design:  The study compared the effects of consuming two different diets, (1) a MedDiet with 3–4 daily servings of dairy (MedDairy) versus (2) a lowfat control diet (LowFat).

Results: Participants on MedDairy reduced their blood pressure and other CVD risk factors.

Conclusion:  “The MedDiet supplemented with dairy may be appropriate for an improvement in cardiovascular risk factors in a population at risk of CVD.”

Funding: “Supported by a Dairy Australia Research Grant.”

Dr. Gardner’s comments: the study does not compare the MedDiet to MedDairy.  Instead, it compares MedDairy to LowFat—whatever people habitually eat, but restricted in fat.

In this study, compared to the LowFat group, the MedDairy group ate:

  •  More fat
  •  Less refined grain
  •  More legumes
  •  Less red meat
  •  More meat substitutes
  •  More nuts and seeds
  •  And, yes, more dairy (mostly yogurt)

Even so, the LowFat group lost more fat mass and gained more lean body mass than did the MedDairy group, but the authors do not mention that in the abstract and don’t make a big deal about it.

But they do say this in their discussion:

However, the use of an LF [LowFat] control diet may limit the generalizability of our results, as well as our capacity to evaluate the benefits of adding dairy to a traditional MedDiet.

Precisely.

Dec 17 2018

Industry-funded study of the week: Hazelnuts

My most recent book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, provides many examples of industry-funded studies with results favorable to their sponsor’s marketing interests.  This “funding effect” shows up mostly in the framing of the research question.

Here is this week’s example, one so explicitly designed to sell hazelnuts that you can guess the funder from the title.

The study: Alexander J Michels, Scott W Leonard, Sandra L Uesugi, Gerd Bobe, Balz Frei, and Maret G Traber.  Daily Consumption of Oregon Hazelnuts Affects α-Tocopherol Status in Healthy Older Adults: A Pre-Post Intervention Study. J Nutr 2018;148:1924–1930.

Methods: Subjects consumed ∼57 g hazelnuts/d and were asked to refrain from eating all other nuts, seeds, and many vitamin E– and magnesium-rich food items.

Results: Hazelnut consumption increased concentrations of the urinary α-tocopherol [Vitamin E] metabolite…In addition, hazelnut consumption increased serum concentrations of magnesium.

Conclusions: Consuming hazelnuts improves a biomarker of vitamin E status in older adults…thus, hazelnuts should be considered as part of a healthy dietary pattern.

Funding: Supported by the Oregon State University Foundation (to BF) and the Hazelnut Marketing Board of Oregon (to BF).

My Comment: I love hazelnuts for their crunch and how they taste.  They have nutrients.  If you don’t eat anything else with vitamin E or magnesium, eating them will of course increase your consumption of those nutrients, and you don’t need a clinical trial to prove it.

That’s why I think studies like this are more about marketing than science.  A news account—although it reads like a press release–-quotes co-author Alex Michels:

Not that we think Oregon hazelnuts are much different than other sources…but now the booming crop that we have in this state finally has science behind it. Perhaps other benefits of Oregon hazelnuts are awaiting future study.

Dec 3 2018

Industry-funded study of the week: Cherries and exercise recovery in women

Since publication of my latest book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We EatI’ve been collecting particularly delicious examples.

Here’s one I discovered through a tweet:

I looked up the press release.

Montmorency tart cherries may have the potential to improve exercise recovery in active females, suggests a new study published in the European Journal of Sport Science.

Researchers in the U.K. found that Montmorency tart cherry concentrate, when consumed twice a day for eight days, reduced self-reported muscle soreness and impacted certain aspects of muscle function after exercise, compared to a placebo.

Guess who funded this?Another example of a study with a sponsor predictable from its title, alas.

Nov 26 2018

Industry-funded study of the week: beer hops improves Alzheimer’s (in mice, anyway)

Even though my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eatis now published, I’m still collecting particularly entertaining examples of industry-funded research that should trigger the question, “Guess who paid for this?”

Matured Hop-Derived Bitter Components in Beer Improve Hippocampus-Dependent Memory Through Activation of the Vagus Nerve, by Tatsuhiro AyabeRena OhyaYoshimasa TaniguchiKazutoshi ShindoKeiji Kondo & Yasuhisa Ano .  Scientific Reports, 2018; 8: 15372.

Background: Our group has focused on the constituents of beer, and we found that iso-α-acids, major bitter components in beer derived from hops (Humulus lupulus L.), improve cognitive impairment in an Alzheimer’s disease (AD) mouse model and high fat diet-induced obese mice.

Conclusion: Vagus nerve activation by the intake of food materials including MHBA [matured hop bitter acids] may be a safe and effective approach for improving cognitive function.

Competing Interests: T.A., R.O., Y.T., K.K. and Y.A. are employed by Kirin Co., Ltd. The authors declare no other competing interests with this manuscript.

[Thanks to Eric Bardot and Maggie Tauranac for sending this excellent example}.

 

Nov 19 2018

A2 milk: still making claims based on industry-funded research

I haven’t said anything about A2 milk—milk from cows producing a different form of casein protein than cows producing regular A1 casein—since coming across it in Australia nearly three years ago.

Then, I was impressed that the manufacturer’s claims for A2 milk’s better digestibility were based entirely on studies paid for by—surprise!—the manufacturer (as I explain in my latest book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eatfood industry funding of nutrition research produces highly predictable results and, therefore, is not good for science, public health, or trust).

Now those companies are trying to sell A2 milk here (at a higher price, of course).

According to FoodNavigator-USA, the US dairy industry is not happy about these claims and brought them up before the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau, which referred the matter to the Federal Trade Commission.

At issue is the quality of the industry-funded research.

It’s easy to understand the dairy industry’s view that A2 milk will take market share away from conventional milk at a time when milk sales have been declining for years.

As for the benefits of A2 milk?  As with so many health claims, I’m betting that this one is more about marketing than health.

Caveat emptor.

 

Nov 14 2018

Effects of ultraprocessing: fewer phenolics in corn flakes

In FoodNavigator, I read a report of a study finding that processing of corn into breakfast cereal flakes strips out phenolic compounds and tocopherols (vitamin E) associated with good health.

Just as processing of whole wheat into white flour removes the bran and germ, so does the processing of corn into corn flakes.

The germ and bran (hull) layers of grain seeds contain the vitamins and minerals—and the phenolics.  What’s left is the starch and protein (endosperm).

To replace these losses, manufacturers fortify corn flakes with 10% to 25% of the Daily Value for 12 vitamins and minerals.

This study is further evidence for the benefits of consuming relatively unprocessed foods.

Of particular interest to me is the authors’ disclosure statement:

This work was funded in part through gifts from the Kellogg Company and Dow AgroSciences.

The authors declare no competing financial interest.

This makes this study a highly unusual example of an industry-funded study with a result unfavorable to the sponsor’s interests.  The authors do not perceive Kellogg funding as a competing interest.  It is.  Kellogg (and maybe Dow) had a vested interest in the outcome of this study.

I would love to know whether these authors obtain further research grants from Kellogg and Dow.