Friday, August 03, 2007

Economic influences on research in nutrition science

For many years, leading voices have been warning about conflicts of interest in nutrition science and the dietetics profession. One reads the work of Marion Nestle (.pdf) or, more recently, Catherine Woteki with considerable alarm.

The main rebuttal to these concerns has been that most nutrition and dietetics professionals are sufficiently honorable to tell the truth, without being influenced by their funding source. In this view, full disclosure and professional standards are sufficient to prevent conflicts from doing any harm. There is no need for further action or policies to limit conflicts of interest.

New empirical evidence shows that the funding source does appear to influence the conclusions of published scientific research in nutrition. This evidence appeared in a January article in PLoS, by Lenard Lesser, a young doctor and medical scholar now a resident Tufts. His coauthors are Cara Ebbeling, Merrill Goozner, David Wypij, and David S Ludwig.

A key table shows: (1) research conclusions were favorable to a food product in 64% of the 22 articles funded by industry sources who benefit from sales of that food product, (2) research conclusions were favorable to a food product in 46% of the 52 articles with no industry funding one way or the other, (3) research conclusions were favorable to a food product in 0% of the 2 articles funded by industry sources that compete with sales of a food product.

The conclusion:
Industry funding of nutrition-related scientific articles may bias conclusions in favor of sponsors' products, with potentially significant implications for public health.

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