As health professionals who strive to remain abreast of the most current findings in nutrition science, this issue is no trivial matter. If you’re hesitant to believe the results of peer-reviewed data because of the funding source, what are you to believe? In a field like nutrition in particular, the fact of the matter is that much of the funding for various types of research comes from industry. And, ideally, this should not be viewed as a negative thing. In many instances, if industry did not fund certain research platforms, they would not likely be funded at all. So there’s little doubt that industry money has helped to enhance our understanding of various nutrition issues.
Further, as a recent article published on the Obesity Society website points out, it is important to recognize that non-industry funding sources including foundations, advocacy organizations, government agencies and others may have biases or “agendas” as well, as do some academicians.
So what can we as research “consumers” do in an effort to separate the wheat from the chaff? For one thing, we can demand transparency from researchers and their funding sources. Ethical scientists and funding agencies should have no trouble disclosing where the funding for a particular study came from. As health professionals, it also behooves us to become adept at deciphering good science from bad. If we rely on headlines in lay magazines or newspapers to translate research findings for us, we may not be fully informed about the research’s true findings. It is important to know a well-designed study from a poorly designed trial, appropriate methods and inappropriate methods. Or, if research design is not a strength, it is our duty to communicate with folks who have knowledge in this arena before accepting or refuting research results. If we ever hope to develop real answers to many of the health/nutrition issues that currently vex us, this is the least we can do.
In a recent article in ENC’s Nutrition Close Up, I cite a document we house on our website that outlines the steps we take, as an industry-funded group, to help to ensure the integrity of the research we support. I’d encourage you to read the document and respond with thoughts/comments. Better partnerships between researchers, funding sources and clinicians can help lead to better research data in the long run.