by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sponsored-research

Feb 10 2020

Industry-funded campaign of the week: Walnuts

A headline in FoodNavigator.com got my attention: “Heart-healthy walnuts could be the next big meat alternative as campaigns build on plant-based trend.

Hoping to exponentially increase consumers’ already growing interest in walnuts, the California Walnut Board today is launching a two-prong marketing effort that will promote the nut’s health benefits and versatility.

The prongs are in-store promotions and a global marketing campaign—in nine countries no less—emphasizing how you only need to eat three handfuls a week to get their health benefits.

The article notes that the health benefits are based on published research.  Alas, it fails to mention that the cited study was ” funded by The California Walnut Commission.”

The study:  Walnuts and Vegetable Oils Containing Oleic Acid Differentially Affect the Gut Microbiota and Associations with Cardiovascular Risk Factors: Follow-up of a Randomized, Controlled, Feeding Trial in Adults at Risk for Cardiovascular Disease.  Alyssa M Tindall, Christopher J McLimans, Kristina S Petersen, Penny M Kris-Etherton, Regina Lamendella.  The Journal of Nutrition, nxz289, https://doi.org/10.1093/jn/nxz289.  

Its conclusion: “…gut microbiota may contribute to the health benefits of walnut consumption in adults at cardiovascular risk.”

The California Walnut Commission has been diligent in funding studies reporting benefits from walnut consumption.  Here’s another one:

The study: Effect of a 2-year diet intervention with walnuts on cognitive decline.  The Walnuts And Healthy Aging (WAHA) study: a randomized controlled trial.  Aleix Sala-Vila, Cinta Valls-Pedret, Sujatha Rajaram, Nina Coll-Padrós, Montserrat Cofán, Mercè Serra-Mir, Ana M Pérez-Heras, Irene Roth, Tania M Freitas-Simoes, Mónica Doménech, Carlos Calvo,1,2 Anna López-Illamola, Edward Bitok, Natalie K Buxton, Lynnley Huey, Adam Arechiga, Keiji Oda, Grace J Lee, Dolores Corella, Lídia Vaqué-Alcázar, Roser Sala-Llonch, David Bartrés-Faz, Joan Sabaté, and Emilio Ros.  Am J Clin Nutr 2020;00:1–11.

Conclusions:Walnut supplementation for 2 y had no effect on cognition in healthy elders. However, brain fMRI and post hoc analyses by site suggest that walnuts might delay cognitive decline in subgroups at higher risk.”

Conflicts of interest: AS-V, SR, JS, and ER have received research funding through their institutions from the California Walnut Commission, Folsom, CA, USA. JS and ER were nonpaid members of the California Walnut Commission Scientific Advisory Council. ER was a paid member of the California Walnut Commission Health Research Advisory Group. JS has received honoraria from the CaliforniaWalnut Commission for presentations. AS-V has received support from the CaliforniaWalnut Commission to attend professional meetings. All other authors report no conflicts of interest.

Comment: Some of the authors of this study work at Loma Linda, a university run by vegetarian Seventh-Day Adventists.  As is unusual for industry-sponsored studies, this one found no delay in cognitive decline among older people eating walnuts.  But the study’s conclusions spin the results to suggest that walnuts might, in fact, delay cognitive decline in higher risk subgroups—an interpretation bias.

Walnuts are good foods and eating them instead of candy or other high calorie junk-food snacks makes sense.  Are walnuts better for you than any other nut?  This study does not address that question.  Studies funded by walnut trade associations have one and only one purpose: marketing walnuts.

As a reminder, I discussed issues related to sponsored research—including why the conduct of the science is not the problem with these studies—in my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Jan 27 2020

Industry-funded comment of the week: Tea, this time

Perspective: The Role of Beverages as a Source of Nutrients and Phytonutrients. Mario G Ferruzzi, Jirayu Tanprasertsuk, Penny Kris-Etherton, Connie M Weaver, Elizabeth J Johnson.  Advances in Nutrition, nmz115, https://doi.org/10.1093/advances/nmz115.  Published: 22 November 2019

Conclusions: “Modest shifts in beverage choices can help close the gaps between current intakes and dietary recommendations…[e.g.] Replacing SSBs with water, low-sodium tomato juice, nonfat milk, or unsweetened coffee or tea.”

Funder: “Supported by The Tea Council of the USA (to EJJ).”

Comment: This is a lengthy review of the health effects of a range of beverages—milk, soft drinks, sports drinks, alcohol—as well a coffee and tea.  Of tea, it says:

Tea is a major contributor to beverage intake in the US adult population with ∼1 of 3 adults reporting regular consumption on any given day. Tea provides few nutrients (∼2% of potassium intake in the United States), although it is considered to be a significant contributor to total fluoride intake….Green tea consumption was significantly inversely associated with CVD and all-cause mortality, whereas black tea consumption was significantly inversely associated with all-cancer and all-cause mortality…The evidence is accumulating that coffee and tea also have health benefits (see above) and are concentrated sources of dietary phytonutrients.

The discussion of tea is a small part of this review.  Did the Tea Council get what it paid for?  You decide.

Jan 13 2020

Sponsored research study of the week: Apples

Every now and then a study comes out that I just love.

Two apples a day lower serum cholesterol and improve cardiometabolic biomarkers in mildly hypercholesterolemic adults: a randomized, controlled, crossover trial.

At last, scientific proof of what we’ve always been taught.

Well, two apples, but OK.

Also OK, who paid for this?

Supported in part by AGER (Agribusiness and research) grant no. 2010-2119 funding the project “Apple fruit quality in the post-genomic era, from breeding new genotypes to post-harvest: nutrition and health.”

AGER is an Italian foundation devoted to promoting Italian agribusiness, supported, it says, by banking foundations.

I’ll take that at face value and enjoy the research.

Jan 6 2020

Industry-funded research studies: the egg industry

I read a report in the Washington Post discussing a study done by Neal Barnard and his colleagues associated with the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a group advocating for plant-based diets and animal welfare.

More than 85 percent of the studies in Barnard’s meta-analysis, whether funded by industry or not, showed that eggs have unfavorable effects on blood cholesterol. Industry-funded studies, Barnard found, were more likely to play down these findings.

The study, a meta-analysis, reviewed 153 studies examining the effects of eggs on blood cholesterol levels.  It found the proportion of egg studies funded by the egg industry to have increased since 2010, and the industry-sponsored results to be spun—no surprise—in favor of the benefits of eggs.

This matters because advice in the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is unhelpful about eggs.

Here’s how I explained the confusion in my January 7, 2016 post:

Cholesterol: the recommendation to limit cholesterol has been dropped, but the document says, confusingly, that “this change does not suggest that dietary cholesterol is no longer important to consider when building healthy eating patterns. As recommended by the IOM, individuals should eat as little dietary cholesterol as possible while consuming a healthy eating pattern.”  Could the dropping of the limit have anything to do with egg-industry funding of research on eggs, the largest source of dietary cholesterol, and blood cholesterol?  The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has just filed a lawsuit on that very point.

The lawsuit was about undue influence of the egg industry, but the judge threw the suit out of court because no legal standard exists for undue influence.  Oh.

What to do about eggs?  I vote for moderation, of course.

Dec 16 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: adding pork to a Mediterranean diet

I saw this tweet from Washington Post columnist Tamar Haspel:

I took the bait.

Science Daily summarized the study.

Incorporating 2-3 serves (250g) of fresh lean pork each week, the Mediterranean-Pork (Med-Pork) diet delivers cognitive benefits, while also catering to Western tastes, and ensuring much lower greenhouse-gas emissions than beef production.

Since the article gave the name of the lead author, Alexandra Wade, and the name of the study, MedPork, I had no trouble finding the actual study.

The study:  A Mediterranean Diet with Fresh, Lean Pork Improves Processing Speed and Mood: Cognitive Findings from the MedPork Randomised Controlled Trial.  Wade A, et al.  Nutrients 2019, 11, 1521; doi:10.3390/nu11071521.

Conclusion: “Compared to LF [low-fat diet], the MedPork intervention led to higher processing speed performance (p = 0.01) and emotional role functioning (p = 0.03).”

Funding: “This study was funded by the Pork Cooperative Research Centre (#3B-113). The Pork CRC had no role in the study design, implementation, analysis or interpretation of data. Acknowledgments…We would also like to acknowledge the following organisations for their generous contributions: Almond Board of Australia for the donation of almonds; Cobram Estate for the donation of Australian extra virgin olive oil; and Simplot Australia Pty Ltd. for the donation of legumes, tuna and salmon.”

Comment:  This study was so obviously industry-funded that Haspel could tell without even looking at it (the Science Daily article did not mention the funder—it should have).  What these investigators did was to add a bit more than half a pound of pork a week to an otherwise healthful diet; They found that people like this diet better than one that is low-fat.  Why would anyone do a study like this?  I can think of only one reason: to give pork a health aura so you will eat more of it, obviously.

Addition

A reader points out that this is not Wade et al’s only sponsored study.  Here are some  others:

Dec 2 2019

Industry-funded scientific argument of the week: do blueberries prevent dementia?

I have posted several studies funded by blueberry trade associations over the years, including my all-time favorite, the one about prevention of erectile dysfunction.  Yes!

Can we please use some common sense here?  I love blueberries, grow and harvest them on my Manhattan terrace, and eat them whenever I can—but not because I think there is the remotest chance that they alone will keep me from dementia.

But scientists are seriously debating whether blueberries do or do not improve cognitive function in the elderly.

Study #1: Hein S, Whyte AR, Wood E, Rodriguez-Mateos A, Williams CM. Systematic review of the effects of blueberry on cognitive performance as we age. Journal of Gerontology: Series A. 2019;74(7):984-95

Conclusion: “Findings from these studies indicate that cognitive benefits may be found for delayed memory and executive function in children and for delayed memory, executive function, and psychomotor function in older healthy and MCI [mild cognitive impairment] adults”.

Funder: “This work was supported by an unrestricted grant from the Wild Blueberry Association of North America.”

The Debate:

Study #2:  The effect of blueberry interventions on cognitive performance and mood: A systematic review of randomized controlled trials.

Conclusion: “Based on the current evidence, blueberries may improve some measures of cognitive performance.”

Funding: The article, still in press, states that the authors declare no competing interests but provides no information about study funding.

The debate: 

My Comment: Of course blueberries are healthy and wouldn’t it be wonderful if all you had to do to prevent dementia was to eat some every day.  Skeptic that I am, I am happy to see widespread agreement that these studies do not constitute conclusive evidence.  Of course eating blueberries (or any other fruit) is healthy; eating fruits and vegetables is healthy.   This kind of research is about getting you to eat more blueberries, rather than any other kind of berry or fruit.

 

Nov 25 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Potatoes (they improve athletic performance!)

The study: Potato ingestion is as effective as carbohydrate gels to support prolonged cycling performance.  Salvador AF, et al.  J Applied Physiology, 17 October 2019.

Conclusion: “Potato and gel ingestion equally sustained blood glucose concentrations and TT [time-trial] performance. Our results support the effective use of potatoes to support race performance for trained cyclists.”

Funder: The Alliance for Potato Research and Education, “a not-for-profit organisation funded by the potato industry in the US.”

Comment:  I learned about this study from an article in NutraIngrendients.com: “Powered by potato? Spuds ‘just as good’ as carb gels for athletic performance, says study.”

Despite my previous correspondence and interview with the editor of NutraIngredients, the article failed to mention the study’s industry sponsor.

This was especially disappointing because its sister publication, FoodNavigator.com, covered the same study but quoted the funding statement.

The study’s title and result should have triggered a look to see who paid for it.  Really?  Cyclists are supposed to carry potatoes with them to eat on long races?   Why would anyone other than potato sellers even think of such a thing?

Addition: But see comments from readers…

I was interested to hear this from Courtney Puidk, a dietitian:

Love your industry updates – BUT actually using potatoes as fuel has been a thing with cyclists for a long time. I have several friends and an ex who used baked potatoes as fuel during bike races and triathlons because potatoes are 99% glucose so they shoot through you fast, and they have lots of potassium and sodium so act as natural electrolytes. They fit nicely into the pockets of cycling jerseys and/or water bottle holders. And they’re cheap! Not to mention a whole food fuel source over some pricey, marketed sugar gel with lots of packaging.  Plenty of reasons to use potatoes as fuel!

And Simone Braithwaite, a reader from Australia, writes:

A friend of mine recently did the Comrades Marathon in South Africa. She has now done the 100km twice – once for each direction. Funny thing is, on the course the provided energy source is boiled potatoes (with salt). Runners actually carrying boiled potatoes along as they trudge this arduous race, apparently nibbling/sucking as they go.  In this developing world context I actually thought this was excellent as potatoes are an affordable and accessible food source for all. I also wondered how long this tradition would last – before multinationals got in with their ‘superior’ ultra processed products. Maybe this is one case where this study will be most useful!!!😂

OK.  I concede.

Nov 18 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Pomegranates

The study: Matthews LG, Smyser CD, Cherkerzian S, Alexopoulos D, Kenley J, Tuuli MG, et al. (2019) Maternal pomegranate juice intake and brain structure and function in infants with intrauterine growth restriction: A randomized controlled pilot study. PLoS ONE 14(8): e0219596.

The findings (my emphasis): “There were no group differences in brain injury, metrics or volumes. However, treatment subjects displayed reduced diffusivity within the anterior and posterior limbs of the internal capsule compared with placebo. Resting state functional connectivity demonstrated increased correlation and covariance within several networks in treatment subjects, with alterations most apparent in the visual network in per-protocol analyses. Direct effects on health were not found.

Conclusion: In conclusion, maternal pomegranate juice intake in pregnancies with known IUGR was associated with altered white matter organization and functional connectivity in the infant brain, suggesting differences in brain structure and function following in utero pomegranate juice exposure, warranting continued investigation.

Funding: This work was supported by National Institute of Health Grants R01 HD29190 (D. M. Nelson), K02 NS089852 (C.D. Smyser), U54 HD087011 and P30 HD062171 (T.E. Inder), The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital (D. M. Nelson) and an unrestricted gift to Washington University School of Medicine from POM Wonderful, Los Angeles, CA. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.

Comment: This is a classic example of interpretation bias.  Studies of bias associated with industry funding find that it shows up mostly in the framing of the research question or in the interpretation, as this one demonstrates.  The study did not find anything significant but concluded that drinking pomegranate juice during pregnancy is good for the growing fetus.

Bottom line: Fruit juices (of any kind) are good for health as long as volumes are small.  Eating the fruit itself is better–less sugar, more fiber.