Today, Associated Press reporter Candice Choi published a terrific feature story titled “How Candy Makers Shape Science”.
- “It was a startling scientific finding: Children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who don’t. Less startling was how it came about. The paper, it turns out, was funded by a trade association representing the makers of Butterfingers, Hershey and Skittles. And its findings were touted by the group even though one of its authors didn’t seem to think much of it. “We’re hoping they can do something with it — it’s thin and clearly padded,” a professor of nutrition at Louisiana State University wrote to her co-author in early 2011, with an abstract for the paper attached.”
- “One of the 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.
- “It’s not surprising that companies would pay for research likely to show the benefits of their products. But critics say the worry is that they’re hijacking science for marketing purposes, and that they cherry-pick or hype findings.”
- “The thinner-children-ate-candy research is an example. It was drawn from a government database of surveys that asks people to recall what they ate in the past 24 hours. The data “may not reflect usual intake” and “cause and effect associations cannot be drawn,” the candy paper authors wrote in a section about the study’s limitations. The candy association’s press release did not mention that and declared, “New study shows children and adolescents who eat candy are less overweight or obese.”
- “It’s true that industry-funded studies don’t have a monopoly on the problems in scientific research. Still, Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University (and no relation to the food company) said unlike other research, industry-funded studies “are designed and produced to be useful in marketing. The hypotheses are market driven.”
- In the past year, 156 of the 168 industry-funded studies Nestle reviewed showed favorable results for sponsors. She said playing up nutritional perks has become a critical marketing tool in the competitive food industry. “The only thing that moves sales,” she said, “is health claims.”
- “The studies have their defenders. Food companies say they follow guidelines to ensure scientific integrity, and that academics have the right to publish no matter what they find. Many in the research world also see industry funding as critical for advancing science as competition for government funding has intensified.
- “In addition to studies that crunch data, companies pay for clinical trials that test the effects of food in humans. PepsiCo has funded and co-authored studies showing the benefits of oats as its Quaker empire has expanded to include oat-based treats like biscuits and “breakfast cookies.”
- “In 2011, the company tested the hypothesis that its Quaker oatmeal and cold cereal would each be more filling than Honey Nut Cheerios, which is made by rival General Mills. The oatmeal was more filling among the trial’s 48 participants, but results were mixed for the cereal, Quaker Oatmeal Squares.”I am sorry that the oat squares did not perform as well as hoped, but your hypotheses were validated with the oatmeal,” wrote Frank Greenway, chief medical officer at Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center. PepsiCo decided to publish only the results about its oatmeal.”
- “Many researchers fear that the body of scientific literature is being distorted by withheld results. On its registry for clinical trials, the National Institutes of Health explains that reporting results reduces publication bias and facilitates systemic reviews. “That’s part of science. You publish the result you get. You don’t just publish the results you want,” said Deborah Zarin, who oversees the registry at NIH.”