According to a new report, many scientific studies about nutrition, as well as the trusted experts who disseminate this information to the public, are being funded by the very entities that should be scrutinized. The report, “Nutrition Scientists on the Take from Big Food,” details the ways that the world’s largest food corporations—aka Big Food—exert their influence on nutrition research and the people who conduct it.
The report’s author, attorney and food advocate Michele Simon, has previously studied the influence of Big Food on the nation’s largest organization of registered dietitians. Together, these reports paint a scary picture of how food corporations collude to manipulate information in order to increase their profits at the public’s expense. The coyote isn’t just guarding the chicken coop here, it built the coop and kept the only copy of the key.
The new report details how the likes of Coca Cola, Nestle, Hershey’s, Monsanto, Cargill, and many other food giants control what studies get funded and published, steering researchers toward projects that benefit the industry, while silencing research that doesn’t. It focuses on the American Society of Nutrition, which Simon characterized as a trade organization for nutrition scientists when we spoke by phone, though casual readers of the ASN’s mission statement  might not glean this.
“The American Society for Nutrition (ASN) is a non-profit organization dedicated to bringing together the world’s top researchers, clinical nutritionists and industry to advance our knowledge and application of nutrition for the sake of humans and animals.”
The researchers, nutritionists and industries in question are brought together twice a year for ASN’s conventions, where industry sponsors pay big money to get access to nutrition researchers, and even host sessions. While most of the sponsored sessions disclose the corporate funder, the report notes, industry ties are not always so obvious. A recent session, “Sweeteners and Health: Current Understandings, Recent Research Findings and Directions for Future,” was sponsored by the Rippe Lifestyle Institute . The Institute’s founder James Rippe, according to the report, has been paid a $41,000 a month retainer by the Corn Refiners Association, which represents the makers of high fructose corn syrup.
One of the session’s ‘learning objectives” was to “Understand whether or not there is a linkage between sugar consumption and obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease as well as other metabolic diseases.” The sugar lobby, “has more than a passing interest” in this matter, the report notes. Rippe has consulted for many other members of the junk food industry as well, including Coca-Cola, Dr. Pepper, McDonald’s, Kraft Foods, General Mills, and Kellogg.
Meanwhile, ASN publishes the one of the most respected scientific journals dedicated to nutrition, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (AJCN). Several ASN executives with close ties to industry sit on AJCN’s editorial board, where they help decide what gets published and what doesn’t, Simon told me.