Research conflicts not limited to pharma

The line between corporate influence and scientific integrity is not just an issue in the pharmaceutical trade. As shown in a piece by Forbes contributor Larry Huston, it also pops up when interests, such as the Coca-Cola company, support research, as it did with a paper about the relationship between obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Huston notes that the paper “downplays the role of calories and diet and does not include the words 'sugar,' 'soda,' or 'beverage.' " He adds that the “perspective on this controversy as presented in this paper is remarkably congruent with the interests of Coca-Cola.” Huston has also written a paper himself for PLoS that reviewed studies about sugar-sweetened drinks and weight. His result: the majority of industry-supported research found no relationship between sugared drinks and weight gain or obesity, while 10 of 12 in which researchers reported no conflict of interest did find such a link.

Lead researcher of the Coca-Cola-supported study Carl Lavie tells Huston that the funding did not influence the outcome, and like other physicians who have protested the end of pharma-provided goodies note, in his case “a few minor honorarium would hardly taint my views.”

Lavie insists he has researched the topic for more than a decade before this most recent piece appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Lavie also tells Huston he thinks Coke's motivation could be a mix of a desire to provide a public service that is good for its image, as well as a desire to “want to learn the scientific truth.”