Head To Head

Should we welcome food industry funding of public health research?

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.i2161 (Published 20 April 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i2161
  1. Paul Aveyard, professor of behavioural medicine1,
  2. Derek Yach, executive director2,
  3. Anna B Gilmore, professor of public health3,
  4. Simon Capewell, professor of public health and policy4
  1. 1Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford OX2 6GG
  2. 2Vitality Institute, New York, USA
  3. 3UK Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, University of Bath, Bath, UK
  4. 4Department of Public Health and Policy, University of Liverpool, UK
  1. Correspondence to: P Aveyard paul.aveyard{at}phc.ox.ac.uk, A B Gilmore A.gilmore{at}bath.ac.uk

Researchers should accept research grants from the food industry, write Paul Aveyard and Derek Yach, but Anna B Gilmore and Simon Capewell say that it biases science

Yes—Paul Aveyard, Derek Yach

The food industry consists of farmers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers, distributors, and the catering industry. If it disappeared tomorrow, most people in the developed world would die within months. It is a major employer; more people are employed in the food industry in the UK, for example, than any other manufacturing sector.1 For these reasons, government policies seek to support the industry. From this perspective, it would be absurd for health policy researchers to shun collaborating with the food industry.

Of course, our aims are not always allied. Many elements of the industry promote and sell food that undermines health. When faced with effective public health actions to curtail consumption of unhealthy products it sometimes fights against the cause of public health. Therefore not all cooperation is appropriate. For example, although industry’s views are critical to developing public policy, its presence when such policy is decided is inappropriate.

But working with the food industry inevitably involves accepting its funding, in kind at least. Take the FLICC study,2 in which a supermarket searched its database to find regular consumers of processed food, often high in saturated fat and salt, and asked them to participate in the trial. The trial is testing an intervention to promote the motivation and capacity of shoppers to make better use of front-of-pack “traffic light” nutrient labels and uses loyalty card data to determine the nutritional profile of purchases. The retailer paid the costs of its staff’s time used for discussion with researchers and to collect and process loyalty card data. Would the study be better if the researchers had paid the supermarket for their time and information? …

View Full Text

Sign in

Log in through your institution

Free trial

Register for a free trial to thebmj.com to receive unlimited access to all content on thebmj.com for 14 days.
Sign up for a free trial

Subscribe