Feature Conflicts of Interest

Dietary disclosures: how important are non-financial interests?

BMJ 2018; 361 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.k1451 (Published 12 April 2018) Cite this as: BMJ 2018;361:k1451
  1. Tim Schwab, independent journalist
  1. Washington, DC
  1. timschwab2020{at}gmail.com

A recent opinion article called for nutrition researchers in particular to declare non-financial interests that might be seen to bias their work, including their own dietary preferences. But is this practicable or desirable? asks Tim Schwab

A provocative article in JAMA last December argued that when nutrition researchers disclose conflicts of interest they should include “non-financial” conflicts, such as their dietary preferences and advocacy work.1

Non-financial, or intellectual, interests in general might include holding particular religious or cultural beliefs or political opinions. Favouring a hypothesis, working in a particular theoretical framework, or even previous research findings could also constitute such an ideological interest.

“Scientists are likely to defend their work, their own discoveries, and the theories that they proposed or espoused,” wrote authors John Ioannidis and John Trepanowski of the Stanford Prevention Research Center in California.

“Nutrition scientists are faced with an additional challenge,” they wrote. “Every day they must make numerous choices about what to eat while not allowing those choices to affect their research. Most of them also have been exposed to various dietary norms from their family, culture, or religion.”

Ioannidis and Trepanowski offer five examples of dietary views that could present conflicts: “strict veganism, Atkins diet, gluten-free diet, high animal protein diet, [and] specific brands of supplements.”

Their call for greater openness in nutrition science draws new attention to a perennial debate in medical research and practice over whether non-financial interests should be disclosed and scrutinised for potential bias in the same way as financial interests—for example, owning shares in the company that makes …

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