If you feared that your skepticism of industry-funded studies may have been unfounded, worry no more. A recent analysis of studies examining the relationship between soda, diabetes and obesity has revealed that who paid for the study may have more to do with the outcome than actual science. The findings were published in late October 2016 by the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Researchers from the University of California at San Francisco analyzed 60 different studies of soft drink consumption’s relationship to diabetes and obesity – all of which had been conducted between the years 2001 and 2016. They specifically chose studies that featured rigorous methodologies.
What they found was that studies conducted by independent researchers demonstrated a clear link between drinking soda and metabolic disease or obesity. Of the 60 studies, just 26 reported that there was no discernible link between consuming soft drinks and obesity or disease.
You may be wondering, “What was different about those studies?”
Those 26 studies, of course, were not conducted as independent research – those studies were led by scientists who had financial ties to the beverage industry.
Dean Schillinger, the study’s lead author and chief of the university’s division of general internal medicine at San Francisco General Hospital, commented, “If you look at just the independent studies, it becomes exceedingly clear that these drinks are associated with diabetes and obesity.” Schillinger noted further that there are still many people out there who believe that sodas and other sugary beverages do not cause disease – largely because of the controversy the industry itself has created.
As concerns over the disease-causing potential of soft drinks continue to rise, so does the call for legislation regarding such beverages. Government authorities and health officials alike have been demanding that soda taxes, and other similar measures, be created to curb consumption. Unsurprisingly, the industry has pushed back by saying a tax on soda is somehow “discriminatory,” and claims that there is no proof that soda has played a primary role in the obesity epidemic.
While taxation is not a favorable choice for inspiring people to quit their soda drinking, the industry’s insistence that their beverages are not unhealthy – and their apparent will to do whatever it takes to create science that agrees with them – is mind-boggling and infuriating.
The American Beverage Association (ABA) – an organization that represents major players in the beverage industry such as PepsiCo and Coca Cola – has even gone so far as to state, “We have a right – and a responsibility – to engage in scientific research.” The organization then continued to insist that the research they fund adheres to the highest standards of integrity.
Of course, their attempt at saving face didn’t end there, and accusations were made about Schillinger’s own biases. It’s a rather childish approach to proving you aren’t in the wrong, but what else do you expect from Big Food?
Industry bias is not a new discovery. A systematic analysis of similar intent, utilizing data from 1999 through 2003, was published in 2007. Dr. David Ludwig, an obesity specialist at Children’s Hospital Boston led the study and worked in conjunction with the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which is a consumer advocacy group. Their findings indicated that industry-funded studies were four to eight times more likely to reach a positive conclusion about the product in question.
Dr. Ludwig commented, “We found evidence that’s strongly suggestive of bias.”
Truly though, is anyone actually surprised?