by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sponsored-research

Aug 22 2022

Food industry partnerships with nutritionists: conflicted interests?

Today’s Dietitian  sent this e-mail blast to members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics on behalf of the National Pork Board, one of its sponsors.

The National Pork Board is seeking to build strong and meaningful partnerships with the Registered Dietitian profession. When it comes to up-to-date nutrition information, cooking techniques, continuing education and future collaborations, Pork is getting ready to give you the resources you value most. But first, we want to hear from you!

We invite you to take this survey for a chance to win one of fifteen $100 Amazon gift cards!*

The survey should take less than 15 minutes to complete. Your responses are voluntary and confidential. Responses will not be identified by individual but will be compiled and analyzed in aggregate.

Fifteen winners will be chosen at random to receive a $100 Amazon gift card. To be eligible, respondents must share their email address at the end of the survey.

Please click here to take the survey by August 22, 2022* Giveaway is subject to Official Rules.

If you want to know how meat trade associations encourage dietitians to promote their products, here’s an example.

Thanks to Dr. Lisa Young for alerting me to this one.

Aug 15 2022

Industry/government-funded study of the week: Jarlsberg is a health food!

Two readers, Cory Brooks and Yme Dolmans, sent me this gem.

They learned about it from a story in The Guardian: “Jarlsberg cheese may help stave off osteoporosis, small study suggests.”

The Guardian picked this up from the BMJ, which published the study and sent out a press release: “Small daily portion of Jarlsberg cheese may help to stave off bone thinning.”

A small (57 g) daily portion of Jarlsberg cheese may help to stave off bone thinning (osteopenia/osteoporosis) without boosting harmful low density cholesterol, suggest the results of a small comparative clinical trial, published in the open access journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health.

The effects seem to be specific to this type of cheese, the findings indicate.

Jarlsberg is a mild and semi-soft, nutty flavoured cheese made from cow’s milk, with regular holes. It originates from Jarlsberg in eastern Norway.

Eat Jarlsberg cheese and prevent osteoporosis?  A miracle!

As with any other study claiming that a single food produces health miracles, my first question: Who paid for this?

The paper:  Effect on bone anabolic markers of daily cheese intake with and without vitamin K2: a randomised clinical trial.  

Conclusion.  The effect of daily Jarlsberg intake on increased s-osteocalcin level is not a general cheese effect. Jarlsberg contain vitamin K2 and DHNA which increases PINP, tOC, cOC and RO and decreases Ca++, Mg++ and HbA1c. These effects reflect increased bone anabolism and a possible reduced risk of adverse metabolic outcomes.

Funding:  Norwegian Research Council; project number 310059, TINE SA, and Meddoc Research Unit funded this project.

Contributors: TINE SA provided Jarlsberg and Camembert cheese, along with financial support, but did not play any role in the design, implementation, analysis, interpretation or manuscript writing.

Comment:  This study is the result of a private-public partnership between the Norwegian government and its dairy industry.  The Norwegian Research Council provides research funding for industry: “We promote competitiveness and growth in Norwegian trade and industry by providing financial support and advice for research and innovation projects.”

As for TINE SA, it  “is Norway’s largest producer, distributor and exporter of dairy products with 11,400 members (owners) and 9,000 cooperative farms.”

This situation is analogous to USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s research partnerships with food trade associations; these also produce studies with results that the press loves to extol and funders can use for marketing.

The purpose of this study is to support a Norwegian industry by promoting sales of Jarlsberg.

Is it likely that eating a couple of ounces of Jarlsberg would have much of an effect on osteoporosis?

The operative word here is “may.”   This could also mean “may not.”

The bottom line:  If you like Jarlsberg cheese, enjoy!

Aug 8 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: A rare negative-results exception (Avocados, no less)

One of the points of my Monday “industry-funded study of the week” posts is that companies usually get the results they want.  Exceptions do exist.  Here’s one of those rare ones.

The study: Changes in Biomarkers of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) upon Access to Avocados in Hispanic/Latino Adults: Secondary Data Analysis of a Cluster Randomized Controlled Trial.  Lorena S. Pacheco, Ryan D. Bradley, Cheryl A. M. Anderson and Matthew A. Allison.  Nutrients 202214(13), 2744; https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14132744

Rationale: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common cause of abnormal liver functions tests and of increased increased risk for morbidity and mortality.  Monounsaturated fatty acids such as those in avocados havew been associated with improved NAFLD-related markers.

Hypothesis: “We hypothesized compared to low avocado intake, high avocado intake would have a beneficial effect on oxidative stress and hepatic health indicated by greater reductions in liver function tests and NAFLD fibrosis score.”

Results: “No statistically significant differences were observed between low and high avocado allotment groups” in anything measured.

Conclusion: “Varied intake of avocados resulted in no effects on biomarkers of NAFLD in healthy adults, free of severe chronic disease.”

Funding: “The parent research was funded by The Hass Avocado Board.”

Conflicts of interest: “The authors declare no potential conflict of interest. All authors report the grant from the Hass Avocado Board….The Hass Avocado Board funded the parent trial and provided all the trial’s avocados at no cost to study participants. The parent trial funder had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript, or in the decision to publish the results.”

Comment: The authors say they have no conflicts of interest but I think they do; the Hass Avocado Board paid for a study of the effects of avocados on NAFLD markers.  Such payments are well established to predict results that favor the sponsor’s interests.

Nevertheless, the results came out contrary to those interests, and the authors were unambiguous in saying so.  In this case, the assertion that the sponsor had no role seems credible, even though it often is not.

High marks to the authors. 

Aug 1 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: Peanuts

Thanks to Lisa Young and three other readers for sending along this one.

The press release: New Research Finds Consumption of Peanuts Supports Weight Loss, Lowers Blood Pressure and Improves Glucose Levels

The Study: Petersen, K.S.; Murphy, J.; Whitbread, J.; Clifton, P.M.; Keogh, J.B. The Effect of a Peanut-Enriched Weight Loss Diet Compared to a Low-Fat Weight Loss Diet on Body Weight, Blood Pressure, and Glycemic Control: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Nutrients 2022, 14, 2986. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu14142986.

Conclusion: Intake of 35 g of peanuts prior to two main meals per day, in the context of an energy-restricted diet, resulted in weight loss comparable to a traditional low-fat weight loss diet without preloads. Greater systolic blood pressure reductions were observed with peanut intake, which may lower cardiovascular disease risk.

Funding: This research was funded by The Peanut Institute…The funder had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript; or in the decision to publish the results.

Conflicts of Interest: J.B.K., P.M.C. and K.S.P. received a grant from The Peanut Institute to conduct this study. The funder had no role in the design of the study; in the collection, analyses, or interpretation of data; in the writing of the manuscript; or in the decision to publish the results.

Comment: The funder had no role?  That’s what they all say.  That may be true in this instance, but but much research demonstrates otherwise, and funders are unlikely to pay for studies that might give them unfavorable results.

The underlying purpose of this study was to demonstrate that if you are on a weight-loss diet, you can eat lots of peanuts and still lose weight: “70 g/d of peanuts may be included in an energy-restricted weight loss diet without attenuating weight loss over a 6-month period.”  Of course you can, if you stick to a low-calorie diet.

I’m all for eating nuts.  Substituting them for ultra-processed snack foods is a reasonable approach to dieting, but don’t expect to lose any more weight eating nuts than from any other source of calories.  This is a marketing study, aimed at encouraging you to eat more peanuts.

Jul 25 2022

Industry-funded study of the week: more prunes

Several people sent me this one:

Prunes preserve hip bone mineral density in a 12-month randomized controlled trial in postmenopausal women: the Prune Study.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,  nqac189, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/nqac189

Conclusions: A 50g daily dose of prunes can prevent loss of total hip BMD [bone mineral density] in postmenopausal females after six months, which persisted for 12-months…we propose that the 50g dose represents a valuable non-pharmacological treatment strategy that can be used to preserve hip BMD in postmenopausal females and possibly reduce hip fracture risk

Sources of Support: California Prune Board (Award Number: 180215)

Acknowledgments: We thank the California Prune Board for the funding and prunes…The California Prune Board had no role in the data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of manuscript.in this study.

Comment: The California Prune Board did not have to have that kind of role to get the outcome it wanted.  Research on funding effects shows that industry influence is exerted primarily in the ways the research question is framed and the results interpreted.  It also shows that investigators hardly ever recognize how industry funding exerts influence.

Reference:  Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Jul 18 2022

Industry funded study of the week: Meat!

The title alone was enough to make me ask: Who paid for this?

Title: Approximately Half of Total Protein Intake by Adults must be Animal-Based to Meet Non-Protein Nutrient-Based Recommendations with Variation Due to Age and Sex.  

Conclusion:  This study provides factual information about the animal protein contribution to total proteins compatible with meeting all nutrient-based recommendations at no additional cost and shows that it varies between 45% and 60% depending on the group of adults considered.

Sources of Support: MS-Nutrition and MoISA received financial support from the French National Interprofessional Association of Livestock and Meat (Interbev). Interbev had no role in the design, implementation, analysis and interpretation of the data.

Comment: The meat industry has a problem.  High meat consumption has been associated with poor health; meat production has been associated with climate change.  This study is designed to push back on the first association.

For data on whether and how industry funding influences the design and outcome of research, please see my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Jul 11 2022

Industry-funded studies: avocados yet again

It’s been more than a year since I last wrote about avocado industry funding of research but the Avocado Nutrition Center has been sending out press releases so it’s time for another look.

Given the Superbowl—105 million pounds of avocados consumed that day by one estimate—you might not think that the avocado industry would have to work as hard as it does to convince you that avocados are a superfood.

But maybe what it is trying to do is to get us to ignore the effects of our demand for avocados on deforestation and social unrest in Mexico.

The avocado industry is a good example of how to fund research for marketing purposes.  It funds the Avocado Nutrition Center’s research program.

The program’s website covers dozens of industry-funded studies that demonstrate benefits of avocados for cardiovascular health, weight management, type 2 diabetes, and healthy living at every age.

Here’s how the Center uses them.

Another recent study of 2,886 older adults, published in Frontiers in Nutrition, examined cognitive function among older American avocado consumers compared to nonconsumers.

On that basis, the Center produced a fact sheet: Proactive thinking on cognition.  

The Center also lists a few independently funded studies that produced equally beneficial results.

I picked one at random and looked it up: Avocado Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease in US Adults.

  • Conclusion: Higher avocado intake was associated with lower risk of CVD and coronary heart disease in 2 large prospective cohorts of US men and women. The replacement of certain fat-containing foods with avocado could lead to lower risk of CVD.
  • Funding: mostly by NIH
  • Conflicts of interest: the lead author reports having “collaborated in the Hass Avocado Board–funded trial Effects of Avocado Intake on the Nutritional Status of Families during 2016 to 2019 as a graduate student researcher, but the present study was not supported or endorsed by the Hass Avocado Board. The remaining authors have no disclosures to report.”

And here’s the most recent study: Effect of Incorporating 1 Avocado Per Day Versus Habitual Diet on Visceral Adiposity: A Randomized Trial

  • Conclusion: Addition of 1 avocado per day to the habitual diet for 6 months in free‐living individuals with elevated waist circumference did not reduce visceral adipose tissue volume and had minimal effect on risk factors associated with cardiometabolic disorders.
  • Funding: This work was supported by the Avocado Nutrition Center.

Why be concerned?  Aren’t avocados good for you?

Sure, and I love them.  But superfoods?  All fruits and vegetables have useful nutrients, but some have fewer calories (a serving size is one-third of an avocado) and most are less caught up in ecological damage.

I discuss the scientific reasons for concern in my book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.  In it, I review the literature on the “funding effect”—the observation that research sponsored by food companies almost invariably produces results favorable to the sponsor’s interests.  Research on conflicts of interest also demonstrates that recipients of industry funding do not recognize its influence, did not intend to be influenced, and deny the influence, despite vast amounts of research to the contrary.

Jun 13 2022

Industry sponsorship of nutrition societies

I am a member of the American Society for Nutrition and received this notice about a sponsored session at it forthcoming annual meeting.

Potatoes generally score high on the Glycemic Index, indicating that their starches are quickly digested to sugars.  The Alliance for Potato Research & Education has a speaker at this session.  I’m guessing that the speakers won’t have anything good to say about the Glycemic Index.  I don’t either, actually, but opinions would be more credible if they came from independent sources.

This made me look up the other sponsored sessions.

Here’s another reason why I don’t think the ASN should allow these sessions at annual meetings.

In my experience, you don’t get much scientific debate at industry-sponsored scientific sessions. Alas.