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.