- Cranberry juice makers have long claimed that compounds in cranberry juice can prevent urinary tract infections (UTIs), and a new industry-funded study from Ocean Spray appears to confirm that claim.
- However, the study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this month, was not only funded by Ocean Spray, but Ocean Spray staff scientists also co-authored the report.
- Other studies have suggested the cranberry juice claim to be a myth. Independent researchers are questioning the Ocean Spray study's methodologies used to interpret the data and reach its conclusions.
The Ocean Spray study magnifies common concerns about industry-funded studies. In another example, a study funded by the National Confectioners Association claimed children who eat candy tend to weight less. But emails uncovered by the Associated Press earlier this month show that the the NCA had been allowed to review the results and provide comments. That raised even more red flags about potential bias in the study's conclusions.
The Ocean Spray-funded study then takes this still one step further by having its own staff scientists co-author the study. Also, other independent researchers have called the methodologies in the study "smoke and mirrors." They included using a nontraditional definition of UTIs and what researchers called "clustering," a way to count the UTI episodes that favors drinking cranberry juice as a preventive measure.
The tenets of this study go beyond what even supporters of industry-funded research might have deemed acceptable, based on points made in a BMJ article earlier this year. They said industry-funded nutrition research had its place because the company or association's interests could align with public health. But they argued that safeguards would need to be put in place to manage use of the funds and the structure and analysis of the study itself.
Between this study and the Coca-Cola and GEBN debacle that unfolded over the past year, it puts additional pressure on initiatives like Silk's plant-based food and beverage research and Dannon's microbiome research. These companies will have to determine ways to make the studies as unbiased and transparent as possible for them to be widely accepted by other scientists, nutritionists, public health advocates, and consumers.
If a company were to report entire study findings, including those that did not directly support nutritional benefits of its products, this could foster a turnaround in perception of industry-funded research.