by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Sponsored-research

Jul 22 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: Walnuts

Replacing Saturated Fat With Walnuts or Vegetable Oils Improves Central Blood Pressure and Serum Lipids in Adults at Risk for Cardiovascular Disease: A Randomized Controlled‐Feeding Trial.  Alyssa M. Tindall, et al. Journal of the American Heart Association. 2019;8:May 7, 2019.

Conclusions: “Replacing saturated fatty acids (FAs) with 57 to 99 g/d of walnuts for 6 weeks reduced central diastolic blood pressure compared with a diet similarly low in saturated FAs but with lower α‐linolenic acid content…This study represents a feasible food‐based approach for replacing saturated FAs with unsaturated FAs (including α‐linolenic acid) from walnuts and vegetable oils, demonstrating that relatively small dietary changes can reduce cardiovascular risk.

Funding: This study was funded by the California Walnut Commission…The California Walnut Commission provided funds for the research conducted. The commission’s staff was not involved with any aspects of conducting the study, analyzing the data, or interpreting the results reported in this article.

Comment: Walnuts, like pretty much all other nuts and seeds, contain healthy fats and other nutrients.  When substituted for unhealthier foods, they would be expected to demonstrate improvements.  This study contributes no new information and there is only one reason to do it: marketing (as I discuss in Unsavory Truth).  The California Walnut Commission wants you to eat more walnuts.  Trade associations or producers of pecans, macadamia nuts. pistachios, almonds, peanuts, hazelnuts, and any other nut you can think of have the same goal.  Do they all have to do this kind of research?  Apparently so.

Mixed nuts, anyone?

Jul 15 2019

Industry-funded studies: The Sugar Association’s view

You may think, as I do, that everyone would be better off eating less sugar, but that’s not how The Sugar Association sees it.  This trade association for sugar producers funds research to demonstrate that eating sugar is a good thing and not harmful.

Here’s what The Sugar Association says:

The Sugar Association is committed to transparent engagement with researchers, external partners and consumers to address knowledge gaps and support independent, peer-reviewed science. Recent literature suggests this framework, rooted in transparency and communication and reflected in our Operating Principles, leads to increased public confidence in industry-funded research,* a goal the organization is working to achieve.

The asterisk refers to Achieving a transparent, actionable framework for public-private partnerships for food and nutrition research, a consensus report written by, among others, representatives of the International Life Sciences Institute, a well known front group for the food industry, and other organizations with ties to food companies.

The Sugar Association lists some of its recent publications [you can’t make this stuff up]:

Nutrition Today Supplement: Sweet Taste Perception and Feeding Toddlers. March/April 2017 – Volume 52 [The Sugar Association funded the conference that resulted in this supplement, which it also funded].

Jul 9 2019

An exchange with Ray Goldberg about sponsorship and trust

Ray Goldberg, Harvard Business School Professor of Agribusiness, Emeritus, but still running a seminar that I have attended annually for about 25 years, often challenges me to think more constructively about how food businesses should respond to pressures from public health advocates. His 2018 book, Food Citizenship (for which I was interviewed and videotaped) illustrates some of the back-and-forth we have had over the years.

Recently, in response to my “industry-funded study of the week” posts, he sent me several thought-provoking questions, which I respond to here with his permission.

RG: How can the private sector support nutrition research without being accused of a conflict of interest?

MN: With great difficulty. Industry-sponsored research is inherently conflicted when research questions are designed for marketing purposes, which much—if not most—industry-sponsored research now is. Such research almost invariably produces results that favor the sponsor’s interests. As I explain in Unsavory Truth, I get letters all the time from trade associations requesting proposals for research projects to demonstrate the benefits of the products they represent. There is a big difference between designing a study to demonstrate benefits (a marketing question) and one asking an open-ended what-happens question (basic research). If companies want to fund basic research, they could contribute to a common pool administered by an independent third party such as the NIH. But food companies don’t want to take the risk of paying for research that might come out with inconvenient results. In my book, I suggest taxing food companies to create a research fund that would be administered independently. That’s the only way I can think of that would work.

RG: How does the consumer end up having confidence in the statements of those in the food system who really do have integrity and who really care about their customers and society and the environment? I trust the Wegmans because I know them personally. How does the Food System build back trust?

MN: It’s interesting that you mention Wegmans (I often shop in the one in Ithaca). It is a family-owned business, not publicly traded. I recall hearing Danny Wegman explain the advantage of family ownership at one of your seminars. It’s not that family members don’t want to make money; it’s that they don’t have to be greedy .  They can do things for their customers that publicly traded supermarkets cannot. As long as Wall Street expects food companies to make a profit and to grow their profits every 90 days, companies must respond by pushing their most highly profitable products every way they can, regardless of whether poor health is collateral damage. If companies want the public to trust them, they have to be trustworthy.  But investors don’t reward integrity; they reward profits.

RG: The food system needs people who care about the health of people, plants, animals and our environment but who is providing the leadership that you and others want in that system?

MN: If they want to sell products, large food product companies (Big Food) has to appeal to public demands for health and sustainability.  They are trying to move the Titanic as quickly as they can and still maintain the same profit margins. Big Ag is way behind. I’m seeing a worldwide consensus that we need food system approaches to solve world food problems.  These firmly link agricultural policy to health and environmental policy so as to address hunger, obesity, and climate change. at the same time.  A largely, but not necessarily exclusively, plant-based diet does that and it’s what all food policies should promote.  At the moment, American agriculture and dietary guidelines are outliers in ignoring those linkages. We badly need to catch up.  I see international leadership on this issue, but not here.  Is Harvard training food business leaders to address these needs?  You tell me where the American leadership is. I don’t see it coming from the top.  It has to be bottom up.  Fortunately, lots of young people are interested in food issues and the leadership is going to have to come from them.


Jul 8 2019

Industry-funded review of the week: Seafood!

Seafood intake and the development of obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.  Bjorn Liaset, Jannike Øyen, Hélène Jacques, Karsten Kristiansen and Lise Madsen. Nutrition Research Reviews (2019), 32, 146–167.

Conclusion: Evidence from intervention trials and animal studies suggests that frequent intake of lean seafood, as compared with intake of terrestrial meats, reduces energy intake by 4–9%, sufficient to prevent a positive energy balance and obesity. At equal energy intake, lean seafood reduces fasting and postprandial risk markers of insulin resistance, and improves insulin sensitivity in insulin-resistant adults… More studies are needed to confirm the dietary effects on energy intake, obesity and insulin resistance.”

Funding: The present review was financially supported by The Norwegian Seafood Research Fund…The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Comment:  It is understandable that the Norwegian seafood industry would support research to promote seafood consumption.  Seafood is a demonstrably good source of animal protein but how good, how essential, and how environmentally sustainable are highly debatable.  To the authors’ credit, they acknowledge the debate when they admit that “more studies are needed….”  Industry-funded studies tend to put a positive spin on equivocal research, as this one does [I provide evidence for these views in Unsavory Truth].

Jul 1 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: grains exonerated!

Perspective: Refined Grains and Health: Genuine Risk, or Guilt by Association? Glenn A Gaesser.  Adv Nutr. 2019 May 1;10(3):361-371.

Conclusion: This literature analysis illustrates a pitfall of attributing health risks to specific food groups based primarily on analysis of dietary patterns. With regard to refined grains, a large and consistent body of evidence from meta-analyses of prospective cohort studies suggests that the assumed health risks are largely a consequence of guilt by association with other foods within the Western dietary pattern, and not to refined grains per se.

Funding: Preparation of this manuscript was supported in part by a grant from the Wheat Foods Council and Grain Foods Foundation. Author disclosure: GAG is a member of the scientific advisory boards of the Grain Foods Foundation, the Wheat Foods Council, and Ardent Mills.

Comment:  The author set out to counter a recommendation of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee that to improve dietary quality, it’s better to replace most refined grains with whole grains.  Refining whole grains removes the great majority of their vitamins, minerals, and fiber (fortified flour replaces some of the nutrients, but not all).  Furthermore, refined grains are the main ingredients in many ultra-processed junk foods that promote overeating calories and raise risks for chronic disease.  Wheat per se may not be the problem, but what about the foods made from it?  I keep thinking: “grain-based desserts,” the number one contributor to calories in the American diet, according to the Dietary Guidelines.

Why do studies like this?  So the Texas Wheat Association can issue this headline: “New study exonerates refined grains.”

Want details and references on these contentions?  I provide them at length in Unsavory Truth.

Jun 17 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: this time, Pistachios

Pistachio consumption modulates DNA oxidation and genes related to telomere maintenance: a crossover randomized clinical trial.
Silvia Canudas, Pablo Hernández-Alonso, Serena Galié, Jananee Muralidharan, Lydia Morell-Azanza, Guillermo Zalba, Jesús García-Gavilán,1Amelia Martí, Jordi Salas-Salvadó, and Mònica Bulló.  Am J Clin Nutr 2019;0:1–8.

Conclusions: “Chronic pistachio consumption reduces oxidative damage to DNA and increases the gene expression of some telomere-associated genes. Lessening oxidative damage to DNA and telomerase expression through diet may represent an intriguing way to promote healthspan in humans, reversing certain deleterious metabolic consequences of prediabetes.”

Funding: “The Western Pistachio Association( USA) and Paramount Farms [which grows pistachios and is owned by POM Wonderful] supported the trial… None of the funding sources played a role in the design, collection, analysis, or interpretation of the data, or in the decision to submit the manuscript for publication.”

Comment: I love pistachios.  Like other seeds and nuts, pistachios provide healthy fats and other nutrient along with their calories.  POM Wonderful is notorious for spending fortunes on research to prove the health benefits of the nuts and fruits it produces.  These are, of course, high on the recommended-for-health list.  Therefore, as I discuss in Unsavory Truth, such studies are about marketing, not science.

Jun 10 2019

Industry-funded study of the week: dairy foods, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease

Knowing that this review was sponsored by the dairy industry, can you predict its conclusions?

Association between dairy intake and the risk of contracting type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular diseases: a systematic review and meta-analysis with subgroup analysis of men versus women. Moshe Mishali, Shiri Prizant-Passal, Tova Avrech, and Yehuda Shoenfeld . Nutrition Reviews 2019;77(6):417–429.

Conclusions: “In conclusion, these results, indicating that dairy product consumption decreases the risk of T2D and CVD, are in line with the recommendations for the public to consume dairy products. The findings about sex differences and the positive effect of milk on women need further establishment. Future studies should focus on isolating the effect of dairy products for men and women throughout their life span

Funding. This work was financed by the Israel Dairy Board.

Declaration of interests. M.M. is a consultant for the Israel Dairy Board. S.P. was paid for her work by the Israel Dairy Board. T.A. is Chief Health Officer at the Israel Dairy Board. Y.S. is a consultant for the Israel Dairy Board.

Comment: This is a study paid for by the Israeli dairy industry.  As such, it can well be considered an advertisement.  Like other such industry-funded studies (as I discuss in Unsavory Truth), it puts a positive spin on equivocal results (“need further establishment”).

Jun 4 2019

Industry-supported review of the week: critique of ultra-processed

As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, research is pouring in (see below) about the benefits of avoiding consumption of ultra-processed foods, those that are more than minimally processed and contain added sources of calories, salt, and color, flavor, and texture additives.

Since ultra-processed foods are among the most profitable, the makers of such foods wish this term would disappear.  Hence, this paper.

Julie Miller Jones.  Food processing: criteria for dietary guidance and public health? Proceedings of the Nutrition Society (2019), 78,4 –18

Conclusions: “No studies or β-testing show that consumers can operationalise NOVA’s [the non-acronym name given to this food classification system] definitions and categories to choose nutrient-rich foods, to eschew foods of low nutritional quality and improve diets and health outcomes. Further, there are significant concerns about NOVA’s actionability and practicality for various lifestyles, skillsets and resource availability.

Financial Support: The staff from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, ASN [American Society for Nutrition], IFT [Institute of Food Technologists] and IFIC [International Food Information Council] assisted with the planning and facilitation of the conference calls and with the review and editing of the manuscript. No specific grant from any funding agency, commercial or not-for-profit sectors was received for the development of this manuscript.

Conflicts of Interest: Julie Miller Jones is a scientific advisor to the Grains Food Foundation, The Healthy Grains Institute (Canada), Quaker Oats Advisory Board, and the Campbell Soup Company Plant and Health Advisory Board. She has written papers of given speeches for Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, Mexico), Cranberry Institute, and Tate and Lyle.

Comment: What most disturbs me about this review is its sponsorship by two major U.S. nutrition societies, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and ASN, whose first goal ought to be promoting public health.  Instead, they speak here for the food industry [I devote chapters to both organizations in Unsavory Truth].

The other two groups would be expected to support food-industry marketing objectives.  The IFT is the trade association for food scientists; it works for the food industry.  The IFIC Foundation positions itself as “dedicated to the mission of effectively communicating science-based information on health, nutrition and food safety for the public good” but is sponsored by food companies; this makes it a front group for the food industry.

Two more papers finding benefits for the ultra-processed concept just appeared in the BMJ.  These are discussed and cited here.