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It’s hard to go too long in today’s 24-hour news cycle without seeing headlines announcing the “latest scientific report” on weight loss, fad diets, or why the health trend of the moment is the best thing you never knew about. And as exciting as many of these news reports seem at first, these research headlines are often a sugar-coated version of the real story. And the outcomes of these studies may not even be the most important part.
As a researcher, my first reaction when I see any “latest research shows” headlines is to find the source material – the actual study that was published, ideally in a peer-reviewed academic journal. By reading the study, I can see how the study was conducted, the actual reported findings, and any errors in study design or execution that might influence its conclusion.

Until recently, I was less likely to look into how the research was funded. While we would all like to believe research is funded by some unbiased third party with no hidden agenda, that is often not the case. The New York Times announced last month that the Coca-Cola Company is now funding a nonprofit research organization, the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN). The primary message of GEBN is that sugary beverages are not, in fact, the main contributor to America’s obesity problem.  Rather, Coke hopes their research will find that our lack of exercise far outweighs (ha!) the consumption of sugary beverages - like Coke - in contributing to obesity.

GEBN is funding the work of several respected scientists in nutrition and exercise. However, it’s impossible not to see that a certain agenda is being pushed by this organization, which will almost certainly be reflected in any study it funds.  In fact, it has been shown time and again that financial conflicts of interest greatly influence research findings, including research on the health effects of sugary beverages. There is a reason most federal agencies require the full disclosure of any potential conflicts of interest prior to an investigator or institution receiving funding.

So while it seems great that there’s more research money available to help solve America’s obesity problem, it’s important to understand where this money is coming from, and that the results should possibly be taken with a grain of, um, sugar.

Note: After the publication of the New York Times article linked above, Coca-Cola disclosed the recipients of over $100 million dollars in research funding. The full list of their sponsored research can be found here.

 


Comments

02/12/2016 4:17pm

I do agree that majority of research being released especially about nutrition is sugar coated and not applicable to everyone. I'm a bodybuilder and of course my nutrition is something I watch closely. Not all diet types can fit certain people. Although it is best to go through tried and tested diets and not just go with what's trending. But in my opinoin at the end of the day a person needs to use these tested diets only as a guide and customize according to their own heath goals. Bottomline is people should know there bodies in terms of how it works with what they eat.

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