AP: Emails uncover alleged relationships between food companies, nutrition research
- Emails obtained by the Associated Press revealed alleged behind-the-scenes communication between the National Confectioners Association and the researchers who conducted a study that concluded children who eat candy tend to weigh less.
- The development is the latest in a string of incidents questioning industry-funded nutrition research. Opponents have posited how the study's findings may be impacted by the interests of its financial backers, which may be food or beverage manufacturers or trade associations.
- The Associated Press noted that the NCA had been allowed to review the research and provided comments. Researchers said in emails that they had taken those comments into account in edits, but they told the Associated Press they only use funders as an extra pair of eyes to spot grammatical errors or ensure nothing was forgotten.
Cherry-picking research is a common complaint among industry-funded studies. To re-establish credibility for industry-funded research, manufacturers can report all results, even those that do not directly support health or other related benefits for products. While risk is involved here, transparency is a valuable asset.
To avoid scrutiny, manufacturers may consider taking a larger step back from final documentation of the research itself. A company may not want its funding dollars to go to waste on studies that end up providing no marketable benefit for their products.
But for the sake of trust and transparency, a more hands-off approach from the study itself could be more beneficial. That's especially if the research findings are favorable, and the company can prove it had no hand in the study's setup, operation, or final analysis. Once the study is finalized, the company can market and promote those findings as it sees fit. Still, in most cases, industry-funded studies inevitably lead to consumer distrust.
A number of companies and brands have recently announced research initiatives and partnerships, including Dannon for research into the microbiome and Silk for research into global solutions from plant-based foods. It's unclear what roles the manufacturers will play in this research, though both initiatives have the potential to benefit sales of the respective brand's products, which means scrutiny is to be expected.
- Associated Press AP Exclusive: How candy makers shape nutrition science