The longstanding influence of food industry funding on nutrition research, researchers, and professional societies threatens the credibility of nutrition science. So much research is sponsored by industry that health professionals and the public may lose confidence in basic dietary advice. A good example is the report on financial industry funding for the corporate food industry sponsorship for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Similarly, a 2013 article in the journal Public Library of Science (PLOS) Medicine examined whether disclosure of potential conflicts of interest influenced the results of published systematic reviews (SRs) conducted in the field of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) and weight gain or obesity. Not surprisingly, they found significant differences between those reviews supported by food industry funding and those that did not have food industry funding. The authors state that they “identified 17 SRs (with 18 conclusions). In six of the SRs a financial conflict of interest with some food industry was disclosed. Among those reviews without any reported conflict of interest, 83.3% of the conclusions (10/12) were that SSB consumption could be a potential risk factor for weight gain. In contrast, the same percentage of conclusions, 83.3% (5/6), of those SRs disclosing some financial conflict of interest with the food industry were that the scientific evidence was insufficient to support a positive association between SSB consumption and weight gain or obesity. Those reviews with conflicts of interest were five times more likely to present a conclusion of no positive association than those without them (relative risk: 5.0, 95% CI: 1.3–19.3).”
Dr. Nicklas lists all of the following food industry funding on her Baylor USDA faculty page.
Nutritional Consequences of Substituting Beef Protein with Various Nutrients and Food Sources
Grant funding from National Cattlemen’s Beef Association National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
$165,289.00 (12/15/2011 – 12/15/2012)
The proposed research will address several key research questions that will provide critical information for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Advisory Committee. This will be an opportunity for NCBA to build a solid foundation of evidence on the role of beef and animal protein in healthy dietary patterns; especially those based on typical American diets.
The Role Rice Plays in Achieving a Healthy Diet and Promoting Public Health Benefits- The Rice Foundation
$115,411.00 (01/01/2012 – 12/31/2012)
Grant funding from The Rice Foundation
The overall goal of this research is: To provide credible scientific support for whole grain brown rice and enriched, fortified white rice as a “quality carbohydrate” and a “superior grain” with outcomes that demonstrate the positive role rice can play in achieving a healthy, balanced diet; one that meets the main principles set forth in the US Dietary Guidelines for Americans and provides a public health benefit.
The Effects of Breakfast on Neuropsychological Functioning- #34987-I
$1,252,893.00 (07/01/2011 – 08/31/2015)
Grant funding from Ferrero
The goal of this study is to evaluate the effects of: a) consumption of breakfast versus no breakfast; and b) consumption of breakfast in two subgroups of children, those at nutritionally at risk versus healthy children, ages 8-10 on short-term neuropsychological functioning.
Understanding the Role of Breakfast and Snacking Patterns in Chronic Disease Risk- Kellogg’s Corporate Citizenship
$72,000.00 (12/01/2011 – 11/30/2012)
Grant funding from Kellogg’s Corporate Citizenship Fund
The goal of the proposed research is twofold: 1) to look at patterns of breakfast, RTE cereal, and snacking consumption and disease risk and, 2) to determine the independent effects of breakfast, RTE cereal, and snacking on disease risk after controlling for correlated components in the diet and health behaviors.
Unscrambling the Research: Eggs, Healthy Lifestyle, and Health Outcomes- #Egg Nutrition Board
$100,000.00 (11/01/2010 – 11/30/2012)
Grant funding from Egg Nutrition Board
The goal of the proposed research is twofold: 1) to examine egg consumption patterns in relationship to nutrient intake and disease risk, and 2) to determine the independent effects of egg consumption patterns on disease risk after controlling for covariates, including, but not limited to correlated food components in the diet and health behaviors.
How do candy companies influence nutrition research? In much the same way that big tobacco companies obscured the link between smoking and lung cancer, with paid-for science and biased evidence. One of the food industry’s most powerful tactics is the funding of nutrition research. It carries the weight of academic authority, becomes a part of scientific literature, and generates headlines. For more, see the AP News Story featuring the work of Baylor professor Theresa Nicklas, LSU professor Carol O’Neil and former Kellog executive Victor Fulgoni.
Nutrition science is sometimes not very scientific. For example, food industry funded studies of candy consumption among children that find children consuming candy are thinner than their counterparts who don’t consume candy. The authors, Theresa A Nicklas, Carol O’Neil, and Victor Fulgoni, called their own study “thin and clearly padded” as reported by the AP News. It almost sounds too obvious, right? Although most journals now require authors to disclose who pays for their work, disclosure—even done diligently—is not sufficient to alert readers to the extent to which industry funding influences research results and professional opinion. As is well established from experimental and observational research, drug company gifts and grants can have substantial effects. To recipients, however, these effects are almost always unconscious, unintentional, and unrecognized, making them especially difficult to prevent. For more examples of nutrition scientists on the take from food industry, one only has to look at a recent New York Times which exposed Coca-Cola funding for scientists who shift the blame for obesity from sugary drinks to lack of physical exercise, or how the food industry paid for academics to publish journal articles on GMO foods. Another report called into question whether the American Society of Nutrition has any credibility given it’s long history of food industry funding for science. Politics are alive and well in the food industry and just might be lurking in your cupboard. For more examples of nutrition misinformation and the influence of the food industry, read my previous blog on the funding of Dr.Theresa Nicklas, a former member of the National Dietary Guidelines Committee.