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Food industry sponsorship of academic research: investigating commercial bias in the research agenda

  • Alice Fabbri (a1) (a2), Taylor J Holland (a2) and Lisa A Bero (a2)
Abstract
Objective

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.

Design

Cross-sectional analysis.

Setting/Subjects

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.

Results

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.

Conclusions

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.

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Copyright
Corresponding author
*Corresponding author: Email lisa.bero@sydney.edu.au
References
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