We are concerned about industry funding of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics for two main reasons: 1) the potential negative effects it has on public perception of dietitians, and 2) the way in which influence and bias is subtle and, as studies have consistently demonstrated, subconscious.
Last year, following revelations of Coca-Cola’s sponsorship of health organizations and health professionals in the United Kingdom, The Times Higher Education published an excellent piece which examined how industry funding can erode trust and how powerful, yet subtle, its effects are.
- “In the US, the proportion of university research funded by private industry tripled between 1970 and 2000, according to an exhaustive report on such links released last year, Recommended Principles to Guide Academy-Industry Relationships, by the American Association of University Professors.”
- “In 2010, Stanford University banned more than 600 physicians who were acting as adjunct clinical faculty at its medical school from accepting “industry gifts of any size, including drug samples, under any circumstance”. They were also prohibited from being paid by drug companies to deliver presentations on their products.”
- “According to the AAUP’s survey, four separate meta-analyses and literature reviews have found that researchers are up to four times more likely to favour a new drug if the research into its efficacy is funded by companies. This could be because companies fund trials only when they think there is a good chance of success, it acknowledges. “But the documented association between funding source and research bias, carried out now across diverse areas of clinical drug and tobacco research, raises serious concerns about possible undue influence on research results.”
- “Humans are hard-wired to expect others to reciprocate favours, and even “subtle” acts of benevolence from one person may trigger an unconscious payback from another, a symposium on influence and reciprocity held by the American Association of Medical Colleges heard in 2007.”
- “Using the results of experiments from neuroscience, psychology and behavioural economics, the association set out to explore how industry support for medical research and education might skew results in its favour. It reached troubling conclusions. In one cited experiment, participants were asked to judge whether they liked a painting. Researchers found that simply telling participants that a company had paid for the experiment, and then flashing the firm’s logo next to the painting during the evaluation, made subjects more likely to rate the painting highly.”
- “Disclosure may give a “moral licence” to the adviser to exaggerate in their own interest, his presentation adds. “The only viable remedy is to eliminate conflicts of interest whenever possible, eg, eliminate gifts from pharmaceutical companies to physicians. This should include gifts of any size, because even small gifts can result in unconscious bias.”