Money May Bias Drink Studies
Industry-Funded Beverage Research Tends to Support Soda,
Milk, Other Drinks, Study Contends
By Marilynn Marchione
- Does milk lower blood pressure? Does juice prevent
heart disease? Beverage studies were four to eight times
more likely to reach sweet conclusions about health
effects when industry was footing the bill, a new report
Its authors claim to have done the first systematic
analysis of such studies published from 1999 through
2003 in hundreds of journals around the world.
"We found evidence that's strongly suggestive of bias,"
said Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at
Children's Hospital Boston who led the work, which was
published Monday in the online science journal PLoS
Medicine. The consumer advocacy group Center for Science
in the Public Interest also participated.
Biased science can affect consumer behavior, doctor
recommendations and even federal regulation of marketing
claims for such products, Ludwig said.
"I don't blame researchers for this problem. I think
most are highly ethical and dedicated to science. The
problem is that when government underfunds nutrition
research, industry money becomes hard to resist," he
However, beverage industry folks say the authors have a
"This is yet another attack on industry by activists who
demonstrate their own biases in their review by looking
only at the funding source and not judging the research
on its merits," says a statement by Susan Neely,
president of the American Beverage Association. "The
science is what matters nothing else."
Public health experts who promote dietary guidelines are
biased toward their own advice, said Greg Miller, a
nutrition biochemist who heads research for the National
Dairy Council. The council requires its funded
researchers to publish results in journals that require
review by outside scientists and to disclose who pays
for their work.
"Everybody brings a point of view to the table, and in
the long run, that's probably a good thing," Miller
But the authors say this point of view appears to
They used Medline, a compendium of scientific
literature, to identify 538 studies about soda, milk or
juice involving people, not animals. They targeted 206
that made a health claim directly related to the drink
being studied for example, bone fractures related to
calcium and milk intake, or immune system benefits from
antioxidants in juice.
Of the 206 studies, only 111 gave information on
funding: 22 percent were fully funded by industry and 32
percent got some industry money.
One group of reviewers analyzed study conclusions and
classified them as favorable, neutral or unfavorable to
the beverage in question. Another independent group of
reviewers determined whether a study would help, harm or
have no effect on the finances of the study sponsor.
For example, a negative finding about soda would harm a
soda sponsor but could help a dairy producer.
Overall, studies funded entirely by industry were four
to eight times more likely to be favorable to their
None of the experiments fully funded by industry that
tested beverages with a control group found fault with
The authors' work was paid for by a grant from the
Charles H. Hood Foundation, which finances research on
children's issues at Ludwig's hospital. Co-author Dr.
Lenard Lesser also had funding from a fellowship at the
Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.
The beverage association complained that Ludwig is on
the editorial board of the journal that published his
study. However, Ludwig noted that the board has more
than 100 scientists on it, and said his study went
through an independent review.
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