RFF#71 – 100% of industry sponsored nutrition intervention research results favour the financial interests of the sponsors

“Most days of the year are unremarkable. They begin, and they end, with no lasting memories made in-between. Most days have no impact on the course of a life…”             (quote from “500 Days of Summer”)

Today was not one of those days.Today, I made a realization that I will never forget (and no, I’m not talking about Rob Ford’s shenanigans).

Here’s what I realized…

I was taught in my undergrad that the purpose of research is to produce knowledge. And in grad school I’ve learned that funding is what produces research. Today I made the connection that…if industry produces funding…and funding produces research…and research produces knowledge…then ultimately…INDUSTRY produces KNOWELDGE…this is a problem. 

Here’s how I realized it…

The day started as most “at-home” work days do. I turned on my computer and started  working…keep reading, it’s going to get more interesting…Because I’m presently preparing for my comprehensive exam (a two hour oral beast-of-an-exam that all doctoral students face)  I have a huge stack of research papers to read through. While reading my first paper of the morning, I got distracted by a typo in the acknowledgements section of the paper. Upon seeing the typo, my eyes were drawn to the “Conflicts of Interest” (COI) section of the article (that’s there authors declare that they haven’t received any money from the food industry or anyone else who could have financial interests in the research results). Normally, the COI section is quite short…normally, I pay no attention to it.  But in this article, the COI section was long, one of the longest I’ve even seen. I was intrigued…and so I started reading it.

Upon reading, I made a realization that will forever change my life. I learned that a certain group of researchers (who will remain nameless), studying a particular nutrient (which will remain nameless) received an “unrestricted research grant” (a.k.a as much money as they want) from a certain food company (which will remain nameless).

For those who are familiar with my research, this would be equivalent to me receiving unlimited funds from McDonalds and then proceeding to publish research that says, “the sodium levels aren’t that high”. You get the point.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve always known that the food industry sponsors research, it just never hit me as hard as it did today. Furthermore, this realization led me to read more on the topic. I quickly found an amazing article published by Lesser et al in 2007, where they did a systematic review of various studies investigating soft drinks, juice and milk. They wanted to see if there was a relationship between the sponsorship of a study, and its conclusions. Not surprisingly, they found that 0% of industry sponsored nutrition intervention studies had results that were financially unfavourable for the sponsors. Meanwhile, 37% of non-industry sponsored nutrition intervention studies did show unfavourable results.

So next time you’re watching tv, or reading the newspaper and it seems like yet another nutrition study has been published that contradicts age old nutritional wisdom…don’t be fooled…chances are the industry’s behind it.

I learned about this fact from:

1) My comprehensive exam reading

2) Lesser et al. 2007. Relationship between Funding Source and Conclusion among Nutrition-Related Scientific Articles. PLoS Medicine. 4(1)e50041-0046.  http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040005 (it’s open access, check it out!)

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