Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Compromised Intelligence

"The food industry funds initiatives that it thinks will further the sale of its products. Industry's job is not to fund scientific research, it's to protect products and improve sales."
"The struggle for grant money is very real. If the only person who's gonna fund you is the food industry because you didn't get your grant this year -- it's pretty hard to tell someone not to take that money, because their livelihood and career are in question."
"It's not about being principled. It's about doing your job and wanting to do good research."
Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, medical director, University of Ottawa Bariatric Medical Institute

"There is a lot of confusion about nutrition today, and industry-funded research has definitely contributed to it."
Cristin E, Kearns, DDS, MBA, postdoctoral fellow, UCSF School of Medicine
A recent study revealed the sugar industry's efforts 50 years ago to shape medical opinion on how sugar affects health. But today, scores of companies continue to fund food and nutrition studies.    Caspar Benson/Getty Images

Dr. Freedhoff revealed to the wider public the involvement of the food industry in the Heart and Stroke Health Check program, now suspended. He discovered that its logo was made available to food producers on a purchase basis for $20,000, which this health and diet expert criticized as representing a clear violation of the public trust. The incidence of health professionals and academics conducting research in the promotion of nutritional information paid for by food companies is not, however, a new one.

The food industry would be loathe to surrender this powerful marketing tool, of paying experts to conduct research on their behalf, lending their names and their expertise and their reputations to a compromised exercise in blessing that which is obviously tainted, suborning their own credibility through association with the very industry research often finds fault with. But these compromised findings -- abandoning neutrality in favour of publishing oblique approvals of food industry products as healthy when they are not -- are published in journals of merit, and it is never revealed that the researchers have been paid for their troubles by the food industry.

An analysis published in the journal PLOS Medicine in 2013 found studies funded by Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, the American Beverage Association and the sugar industry were far likelier to discover no linkage between sugar and weight gain than research conducted by those with no link to the food industry through a financial conflict. Last year, a paper published in the journal Research Integrity and Peer Review, concluded that conflicts of interest are under-reported, inconsistently described and are manifestly problematical to access.
We know very little about the association between industry sponsorship or authors’ conflicts of interest and the results of nutrition research. Jordan Whitfield/Unsplash
Such highly respected groups as the American Society for Nutrition and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics have been criticized by advocates for public health, when it was discovered they had formed partnerships with Kraft Foods, McDonald's, PepsiCo and Hershey's. Dietitians have bee discovered to be accepting payment from Coca-Cola to declare that company's soda as representing a healthy beverage. The New York Times in 2015 was in possession of compromising emails revealing Coca-Cola had funded research that claimed exercise, not poor diet to be responsible for obesity.

The scientists whose studies were paid for by the beverage company reported that sugar consumption was of less importance than exercise in weight management. Their reports appeared in medical journals, at conferences and were disseminated through social media. The truth of the matter is that scientists now recognize the role of sugar in the consumption of harmful calories. The composition of glucose/fructose encourages fat storage in the body.
Partnerships between industry and research institutions aren’t uncommon.
The Associated Press also was able to obtain emails demonstrating a trade association whose clients were the producers of Butterfinger, Hershey's and Skittles paid for studies concluding that children who consume candy end up with healthier body weight than children who do not consume these types of products. While the authors of the papers qualified their results by cautioning that the data "may not reflect usual intake", as well as "cause and effect associations cannot be drawn", the press release from the candy association made no mention of these study limitations.

"New study shows children and adolescents who eat candy are less overweight or obese", is what they trumpeted. According to an article published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine last year, the sugar industry paid three Harvard scientists to conduct research to prove that sugar had no impact on initiating heart disease, 50 years ago. The research had been published in the New England Journal of Medicine, stating major problems surfaced with other studies whose findings were that sugar was indeed harmful to human health. And this, without disclosure relating to the source of their funding.

There is a lack of transparency about funding sources and conflicts of interest in the area of nutrition research.

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