Corporate funding of nutrition research and unjustified conclusions

  • Kahn R
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To the Editor In herViewpoint about corporate funding of food and nutrition research, Dr Nestle criticizes the food industry and scientists who associate with it.1 Dr Nestle claims that scientists who receive industryderived research grants “often fail to realize that food-industry funding may affect their work…”.1(p13) She cites newspaper articles that “illustrate the concerns about biases introducedbyindustry funding.”1(p13) She also cites reports2,3 showing that there are relatively fewstudies funded by industry whose results are contrary to the funders’ interest and discusses herwork on the subject including reference to her Food Politics blog.4 The study by Massougbodji et al2 also determined that the quality of the methods of the studies reviewed did not explain the orientation of the authors’ conclusions, nor was there any relationshipbetweenthesource of fundingandtheoverall quality of the studies examined. The study by Lesser et al3 did not examineanyaspectof the studies thatwerereviewedotherthan fundingsource.Thenewspaperstories did not describeanyflaw in the researchof the scientists profiled. Inaddition, the authors of agreatnumberof the presumablytaintedindustry-sponsored studies discussed on the blog written by Dr Nestle4 explicitly stated that the funding source was not involved in the design, conduct, data analysisandinterpretation, ormanuscript preparation. Although Dr Nestle also states that the quality of dietary advice is adversely affected by the source of research funds, many believe that the real problem is the overall poor quality of nutrition research.5 Before guilt by association is established, criticisms by Dr Nestle deserve much more analysis. Itwould certainly be helpful, if not essential, forDr Nestle or others to showthat industry-funded studies have more design flaws, inappropriate analyses, or unjustified conclusions relative to similar studies funded by other sources. Furthermore, inaddition tofinancial conflictsof interest, there are nonfinancial conflicts resulting from career self-interest or unbounded intellectual passion that can be just as worrisome. Conflicts of interest in science can affect anyone, and are relevant to proponents of any point of view.

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  • Richard Kahn

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