This week, Dr. Marion Nestle of New York University has taken the time to comment on the issue of partnerships between Big Food and health organizations.
Some of Dr. Nestle’s thoughts:
- “There is only one reason for food companies to sponsor research—so they can use the results in their own interests.
- “Sponsorship perverts science. Sponsored research is not about seeking truth or adding to public knowledge. It is about obtaining evidence to defend or sell the sponsor’s product, to undermine research that might suggest that a product is unhealthy, to head off regulation, and to allow the product to be marketed with health claims.
- “It’s stunningly easy to design studies that accomplish these goals and to conduct them in ways that meet the scientific criteria of peer-reviewers.”
Dr. Nestle also expresses her concerns with the ties between Big Food and the organization she belongs to — the American Society of Nutrition (which publishes the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition). She explains:
“I’m even more concerned about food company sponsorship of scientific studies published in AJCN.
The results of sponsored studies almost invariably benefit the sponsor. Exceptions are scarce. The conflicts are so blatant that I can often guess from reading an abstract who the study’s sponsor must be. A look at the conflicts of interest disclosed by the editorial board of AJCN suggests why this problem is occurring.
Of the 12 members of the editorial board, only 3 disclose no corporate conflicts of interest, and 2 others disclose minor conflicts. But the majority—7 of the 12—list major corporate affiliations. The list of food companies for which they consult or advise is too long to reproduce but it includes Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, The Sugar Association, The National Restaurant Association, ConAgra, McDonald’s, Kellogg, Mars, and many others.
This raises uncomfortable questions: How does this editorial board deal with papers suggesting harm to health from consuming products from these companies? How does it deal with sponsored papers suggesting benefits of the products?
Affiliations with food companies may or may not lead to publication bias, but at the very least they give the appearance of serious conflicted interest. This affects opinion not only of sponsored studies, but also of the overall credibility of research published in the journal.”
Above all, Dr. Nestle acknowledges that the issue of Big Food’s ties with health organizations is one that needs a lot more discussion than it has received so far. We wholeheartedly agree.