by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sponsored-research

Mar 8 2019

Weekend reading: The Perils of [Corporate] Partnership

Jonathan Marks.  The Perils of Partnership: Industry Influence, Institutional Integrity, and Public Health.  Oxford University Press, 2019.

I blurbed this one:

Jonathan Marks is the go-to expert on the hazards of public-private partnerships.  His account of the perils reads easily, is well referenced, is clear and to the point, and applies to partnerships with drug, food, and any other corporations.  Anyone who cares about the ethical implications of such partnerships for public health will find this book invaluable.

The book is about industry partnerships in general, but Marks uses food-company examples such as the American Beverage Association’s gift to the Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania in what seemed to be a direct exchange for the city’s dropping a soda tax initiative, and the USDA’s promotion of cheese.

Marks concludes that

Public-private partnerships, multistakeholder initiatives, and other close relations with industry are premised on a positive conception of consensus, compromise, and collaboration.  But the “three C’s” are not inherently good.  On the contrary, tension between regulators and corporations is ordinarily necessary to protect public health.  And achieving common ground with industry may put off the table measures that might promote public health.  The default relation between industry and government should be arm’s lengths relations involving institutional tension, “struggle,” and direct conflict.

The point: the agenda of corporations is to promote profit, not public health.  This creates an inherent tension, not easily resolved.

Mar 4 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: artificial sweeteners and the microbiome

The study: Assessing the in vivo data on low/no-calorie sweeteners and the gut microbiota.  Alexandra R. Lobacha, Ashley Roberts, Ian R. Rowland. Food and Chemical Toxicology 124 (2019) 385–399.

Its conclusion: “The sum of the data provides clear evidence that changes in the diet unrelated to LNCS [low- and no-calorie sweeteners] consumption are likely the major determinants of change in gut microbiota numbers and phyla, confirming the viewpoint supported by all the major international food safety and health regulatory authorities that LNCS are safe at currently approved levels.”

Funding disclosures: Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy (A.R.L. and A.R.) received financial support from the Calorie Control Council to assist in the preparation of the manuscript. The Calorie Control Council did not contribute to the origination, planning, implementation, or interpretation of this work. The Calorie Control Council did review the content of the complete manuscript; however, A.R. maintained responsibility for the final content.

Comment: Artificial sweeteners are widely suspected on the basis of questionable evidence to be harmful in one way or another.  The industry that makes these sweeteners wants to prove them safe and effective.  This was a literature review commissioned by the Calorie Control Council, a trade association for the makers and users of artificial sweeteners, from Intertek Scientific & Regulatory Consultancy, a group that does this kind of work.  I would be more confident in conclusions like these if they had been arrived at independently.

Feb 25 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: avocados

I love avocados and think they—like all fruits and vegetables—are just fine to eat.

But avocado trade associations want us to eat more avocados.

A reporter sent me correspondence from an executive from a public relations firm that must represent some such trade association.  Over a period of about a month, the PR person sent the reporter four emails.  Here is message #4:

Subject: New avocado research just in time for American Heart Month

Sorry for the nudge – I just wanted to check in one more time to see if you’re working on any heart health related stories in which avocados could be a fit. If so, I thought your readers may find this research helpful. Either way, please let me know and I will stop bugging you 😊

The previous three messages extolled the heart-healthy benefits of eating avocados and offered to connect the reporter to a dietitian (identified by name) “for a phone or email interview to discuss this further and answer any questions.”

None of the messages stated who the PR firm or dietitian were working for.

But take a look at the research article.

The study’s conclusion: “Incorporating fresh Hass avocados in meals can help people achieve dietary recommendations to eat more fruits and vegetables and simple substitution strategies with avocados for carbohydrates can add to the nutrient diversity of the diet and potentially have important cardio-metabolic benefits worthy of investigating further.”

No surprise: “This research was supported by the Hass Avocado Board, Irvine, CA, USA.”  One of the authors “is a member of Avocado Nutrition Science Advisory.”

The reporter’s response to all this, and I quote: “AAAAHGGHGHGH.”

Mine too.

Feb 18 2019

Industry-sponsored research of the week: Cherries

In my book, Unsavory Truth, I mention that I often receive letters from food trade associations requesting research proposals aimed at proving the benefits of their products.

I point out that there is a big difference between calling for research to prove benefits, and open-ended basic research aimed at discovering what the actual effects might be.

Here is a delicious example from the Cherry Research Committee of the Cherry Marketing Institute:

All proposed research should be hypothesis-driven, and would strive to establish an association or to document a direct relationship between the consumption of tart cherry phytonutrients (when consumed as whole tart cherries or processed tart cherry products) and reduced risk, prevention, or improved treatment of a disease or condition of significant public interest. The study design should also examine a possible
cellular/molecular mechanism of the treatment effects.

And here’s an example of cherry-benefit research in action:

Title: Effects of Tart Cherry Juice on Biomarkers of Inflammation and Oxidative Stress in Older Adults.  Chai SCDavis KZhang ZZha LKirschner KF.  Nutrients. 2019 Jan 22;11(2). 

Conclusion: “The present study suggests that the ability of tart cherry juice to reduce systolic BP [blood pressure] and LDL cholesterol [the bad kind], in part, may be due to its anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. Larger and longer follow-up studies are needed to confirm these findings.”

Grant support: Cherry Research Committee of the Cherry Marketing Institute

Comment:  As the press release explains:

Montmorency tart cherry juice helped lower systolic blood pressure and LDL or “bad” cholesterol in older adults by reducing certain biomarkers of inflammation and oxidative stress in older adults, according to a new study published in Nutrients. Larger and longer follow-up studies are needed to confirm these findings.

I posted another cherry-funded study early in December.

I love cherries.  They are delicious, but this is marketing research, not basic science.

…Thanks to Casey Palmer for sending all this.

Feb 4 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: chewing gum again

You must not be chewing enough gum.  Mars-Wrigley wants you to chew more of it.  How best to do that?  Fund research (for evidence, see my most recent book, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat).

Citation: A 3-month mastication intervention improves recognition memory, by Curie Kima, Sophie Miquelb and Sandrine Thureta. Nutrition and Healthy Aging xx (2019) x–xx (in press).

The study:  “53 participants aged 45–70 years old were required to chew mint-flavoured sugar free chewing gum for 10 minutes, 3 times a day over 3 months. Pattern separation and recognition memory was measured using the Mnemonic Similarity Task. Questionnaires were administered to measure changes in mood, anxiety, and sleep quality.”

Results: “Extended periods of mastication gave rise to a significant improvement in recognition memory compared to a non-chewing control group.”

Funding: “This work was supported by Mars Wrigley Confectionery.”  “SM is an employee of Mars Wrigley Confectionery (Chicago, IL). The chewing gum used for the intervention was provided by Mars Wrigley Confectionery.”

Comment: This industry seems to be working hard to convince you that chewing gum is good for you; this is the second time I’ve posted an industry-funded study (here’s the first).

Maybe I would remember names and faces better if I chewed gum?  Sugarless, of course.

Jan 31 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: coffee protects DNA

I love coffee (preferably not over-roasted) and have long been convinced that it is not a health risk (more on that in the comment below).  But a miracle drug?

As I discuss in Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat, industry-funded research almost invariably produces conclusions that favor the sponsor’s marketing interests, as this one does.

Title: Consumption of a dark roast coffee blend reduces DNA damage in humans: results from a 4-week randomised controlled study  Dorothea Schipp, Jana Tulinska, Maria Sustrova, Aurelia Liskova, and 10 others.  European Journal of Nutrition, published online 17 November 2018.

Purpose: “To determine the DNA protective effects of a standard coffee beverage in comparison to water consumption.”

Conclusions: “Our results indicate that regular consumption of a dark roast coffee blend has a beneficial protective effect on human DNA integrity in both, men and women.”

Funding: “This study has been supported by Tchibo GmbH, Hamburg, Germany” [Tchibo is a German coffee company].

Conflict of interest: “D. Schipp is a self-employed statistician, who has been appointed and financed by Tchibo GmbH for this and other projects.”

Comment: this study was designed to demonstrate coffee’s protective effects, and did so.  Here’s what I wrote about coffee in What to Eat:

There is something abut coffee–perhaps just the caffeine–that makes researchers try hard to find something wrong with it.  My files are full of papers claiming that coffee raises the risk for heart disease, heartburn, cancer, infertility, fetal growth retardation, spontaneous abortion, breast lumps, osteoporosis, ulcers, and any number of other health problems, but the observed effects are so small and so inconsistent that the studies are not very convincing.  Instead, well-designed studies tend to show no harmful effects…Complicating an overall assessment of the health effects of coffee are studies showing the benefits of drinking it…As with so many studies of foods and health, research on coffee and health is hard to do.

Bottom line: If you like drinking coffee, enjoy.

Thanks to Daniel Skavén Ruben for sending this one.

 

 

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.