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To identify scientific publications that result from food industry-funded projects on human health and to characterize their research topics to assess the potential for bias in the research agenda.
Food industry-supported projects related to human health were identified from food company websites; publications resulting from the food industry-sponsored projects were identified through a PubMed search.
Of ten companies analysed, only two (Coca-Cola and the Mars Center for Cocoa Health Science) provided a list of research projects with sufficient detail for analysis. Among the 204 publications resulting from thirty-seven disclosed research projects, the most common topic was physical activity (40·7 %), while highly processed foods were analysed in 10·8 % of the publications. Twenty-two publications (10·8 %) focused on research integrity or research methods.
Publications resulting from Coca-Cola- and Mars-sponsored research appear to skew the evidence towards solutions that favour industry interests by focusing on food components that can be manipulated and marketed by food companies. These food industry-funded publications can also distract from nutrition as a health issue by diverting public and policy attention to physical activity. Shaping the debate around scientific methods can be another strategy that corporations use for their benefit to raise doubts about the methods used in non-industry sponsored research.
To categorize the research topics covered by a sample of cohort studies exploring the association between nutrition and obesity; to describe their funding sources; and to explore the association between funding sources and research topics.
Cohort studies retrieved from MEDLINE and PubMed published between 2010 and 2016.
One hundred and twenty-one studies were included. Funding source and conflicts of interest were disclosed in 95·0 and 90·1 % of the studies, respectively. Food industry sponsorship was disclosed in 8·3 % of the studies. Half of the studies analysed the consumption of a single food or food groups, 18·2 % included an analysis of dietary patterns and 17·4 % focused on specific nutrients. Highly processed foods were considered in 48·8 % of the studies and 27·3 % considered dietary behaviours (e.g. eating away from home). No statistically significant differences in research topics were observed between industry- and non-industry-funded studies.
Cohort studies focused on more complex exposures (e.g. food or dietary patterns) rather than single nutrients. No significant differences in the research agenda by funding sources were observed. The analysis was limited by the low proportion of studies with disclosed food industry sponsorship.
To categorize the research topics covered by a sample of randomized controlled trials (RCT) included in systematic reviews of nutrition interventions to address obesity; to describe their funding sources; and to explore the association between funding sources and nutrition research topics.
RCT included in Cochrane Reviews of nutrition interventions to address obesity and/or overweight.
Two hundred and thirteen RCT from seventeen Cochrane Reviews were included. Funding source and authors’ conflicts of interest were disclosed in 82·6 and 29·6 % of the studies, respectively. RCT were more likely to test an intervention to manipulate nutrients in the context of reduced energy intake (44·2 % of studies) than food-level (11·3 %) and dietary pattern-level (0·9 %) interventions. Most of the food industry-sponsored studies focused on interventions involving manipulations of specific nutrients (66·7 %). Only 33·1 % of the industry-funded studies addressed dietary behaviours compared with 66·9 % of the non-industry-funded ones (P=0·002). The level of food processing was poorly considered across all funding sources.
The predominance of RCT examining nutrient-specific questions could limit the public health relevance of rigorous evidence available for systematic reviews and dietary guidelines.
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