How the sugar industry is “spinning a web of influence” in nutrition science

I suppose this week’s theme is corporate influence on public health. Yesterday was tobacco; today is sugar. (John Oliver’s take on the topic from a couple months ago is equally as humorous and alarming as was his tobacco segment.)

Credit: dailyfinance.com
Credit: dailyfinance.com

The BMJ released a shocking series of articles on how food companies are influencing scientists in the UK. Speaking about the Medical Research Council’s Human Nutrition Research unit at Cambridge, one of two government-funded authorities on nutrition in the UK, the article reveals the following:

“The BMJ has found that for more than a decade funding from industry has flowed to scientists involved with the research unit. Scientists working on Medical Research Council (MRC) projects have received research funding from organisations including Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Nestlé, the Institute of Brewing and Distilling, Weight Watchers International, NutriLicious (a public relations firm specialising in conveying “nutrition and health messages” for the food industry), Sainsbury’s, W K Kellogg Institute, and GlaxoSmithKline.”

And exactly how much funding are we talking about? The same article goes on to say:

“Figures obtained through freedom of information requests suggest industry funding of the work of scientists in the Human Nutrition Research unit alone may have averaged close to £250 000 (€330 000; $380 000) a year for the past decade. Industry funding for the three years from 2010 to 2012 totalled £697 469, peaking at £380 874 in 2010—5% of the unit’s total income for that year.”

The ultimate question, though is if this “influence” biases research in some way. Does the fact that researchers receive industry funding influence the outcomes of their research? Based on a 2013 study, the answer is a resounding “yes,” and quite significantly. It found that industry-funded studies examining sugary drink consumption and weight gain or obesity were “five times more likely to present a conclusion of no positive association” compared to those that weren’t.

Money talks. Period.

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