In a paper titled “A Unifying Vision for Scientific Decision Making: The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Scientific Integrity Principles,” AND’s Council on Research identifies that “care must be taken to ensure that scientific activities are funded, conducted, and disseminated in an ethical, credible, and transparent way” in order to “maintain the trust of the public and the profession in the science of nutrition and dietetics.”
We are glad to see AND recognize that problematic partnerships place the credibility of our credential at stake. We recommend you read the entire paper, and wanted to share our five takeaways from it:
- “An analysis of all articles reviewed in the Academy’s Evidence Analysis Library suggests that funding source does not affect research outcomes in nutrition studies”
This comes across as a very simplistic viewpoint about a problem that has made global headlines in the past few years, and one that many scientists recognize as a barrier that needs to be addressed. As Vox science journalist Julia Belluz recently reported, “nutrition research has to wake up to its conflict-of-interest problem,” which is rampant and deserves more scrutiny.
- “The influence of the funder on the research question and methodology must be differentiates and disclosed. Policies must be developed to determine where on this continuum is acceptable, which may vary for the type of project proposed. “Some have suggested that one reason for early data showing differences in industry-funded studies is that industry likely to ask the right questions.”
We wholeheartedly agree. We also want to point out that one of the inherent problems around this issue is that the food industry has the resources to fund studies that can help support its products. Consider, for instance, the amount of financial and human resources the dairy industry put forth to ensure that there was a sector for dairy on MyPlate (this has nothing to do with whether dairy is “good” or “bad”, but rather on the agreement that a diet free of dairy products is able to provide all the nutrients we need).
- “Industry should not directly influence practice, such as through the funding of evidence-based practice guidelines. However, because of the broad range of nutrition practice, it can be difficult to determine what activities influence practice…”
This is an excellent point about the difficulties in determining the impact of industry-friendly information that is disseminated as objective evidence (i.e.: industry-sponsored CEUs). In fact, this is an excellent research question to look at what activities most influence RDNs’ practices.
- “All scientific activities should have a clear disclosure of funding source and the influence the founding source had on all aspects of the project, as well as potential conflicts by presenters and developers”.
Yes – and this is something we would like AND to address explicitly and identify as an important factor when reading scientific materials (as opposed to deeming it irrelevant or unimportant).
- “It is important to note that perceived conflicts of interest can be just as important as financial conflicts.”
We are very pleased to see this recognized, as it has been a point we have made since our inception. Perception is reality, and when the general public sees the name of a health organization tied to the likes of Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and McDonald’s, it creates a “health halo” that solely benefits industry.