Dr. Michael Omidi discusses recent criticisms towards a Pennington Biomedical Research study funded by Coca-Cola.
A new study conducted by LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center pointed the blame for child obesity on a lack of physical exercise around the world. The study results were published in the journal Obesity. It attributes physical exercise to have a bigger impact on obesity than diet. These findings would seem obvious, because part of a healthy lifestyle is physical activity and a proper diet. The criticism arose when word got out that the research was funded by The Coca-Cola Company.
Coca-Cola is one of the largest sellers of sugary beverages in the world. Sugary beverages and diet have often been associated as a culprit of causing child obesity. By funding studies that push physical activity and downplay diet and nutrition, critics found it concerning that these Coca-Cola funded research projects may try to craft a narrative that deflects blame away from the sugary beverage industry, thus protecting their own profits.
This came to light when the New York Times revealed that Pennington’s research was funded by Coca-Cola. In the article, published in Obesity, the editors have put in a disclaimer stating that the research was founded by Coca-Cola. The question here is does funding create a bias in results?
As one of the New York Times critic Marion Nestle points out, “This was a standard study funded by Coca-Cola that produced results favorable to Coca-Cola’s marketing interests.” This type of criticism is rebutted by a Pennington spokesperson Alisha Prather, “The research we do is transparent because our science is our stock-in-trade. We go to great lengths to protect the participants in our research studies to ensure that we are generating sound science — and we disclose funding sources and potential conflicts of interest in our published papers and press releases.”
It is hard to say if there is a bias. When any corporate entity that has a personal interest in a narrative funds a medical study, the results of that will always be suspect in the public’s eye. There is a large amount of data pointing out that sugary beverages contribute to Type 2 diabetes, along with a multitude of other health concerns. Additionally, there have been links to sugary sweetened beverages exacerbating child obesity. To be safe, people should not only eat healthy, but also get the recommended amount of physical activity daily.
Yours in health,
Michael Omidi is the co-founder of The Children’s Obesity Fund.