Nutrition studies' conclusions tied to funding source

Recent analyses have documented bias in pharmaceutical studies funded by industry. Now, an analysis from Children's Hospital Boston finds a similar phenomenon in scientific articles about nutrition, particularly in studies of beverages. The analysis the first systematic one performed on nutrition studies found that beverage studies funded solely by industry were four to eight times more likely to have conclusions favorable to sponsors' financial interest than were studies with no industry funding. Findings are published online in the January 9 issue of the journal PLoS Medicine.

David Ludwig, MD, PhD, the study's senior author and director of the Optimal Weight for Life (OWL) program at Children's Hospital Boston, believes that bias in nutrition studies may have far greater effects than bias in pharmaceutical studies. Not only do the findings of nutrition studies receive frequent media attention, but they influence governmental and professional dietary guidelines, the design of intervention programs, and FDA regulation of health claims on foods and beverages.

"We don't all take drugs, but we eat every day," Ludwig says. "If the science base is compromised by conflict of interest, that's a top-order threat to public health."

Because the researchers focused their analysis on soft drinks, juice and milk, they aren't sure whether their findings extend to nutrition studies as a whole. "We chose beverages because they represent an area of nutrition that's very controversial, that's relevant to children, and involves a part of the food industry that is highly profitable and where research findings could have direct financial implications," Ludwig says.

The researchers began by conducting a Medline search of all existing scientific literature about soft drinks, juice and milk published during a five-year period (1999-2003). They retrieved 538 articles, of which 206 were eligible for analysis. Eligible articles had to look at heal

Contact: Andrea Duggan
Children's Hospital Boston

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