Bias in health research is a big controversy in today’s world. Everyone is confused about what’s healthy and what’s not because health research is very conflicting. It seems companies are funding research to support their agenda. Bias in research can occur in various ways, and researchers and consumers alike need to understand how and when bias occurs. For example, when companies fund research, the research organization can skew their results towards what the funder wants. Let’s use Coca-Cola as a case study.
Coca-Cola has invested millions of dollars into health research, partnering with many research organizations. Due to much controversy surrounding its role in these studies, according to its website, Coca-Cola has not independently funded a research project since 2016. Coca-Cola got caught up in a frenzy after researchers began to notice how much control the company had in the research they were funding. Indeed “while Coca-Cola contends that its guidance is not tantamount to approval, it does retain the right to comment on papers before publication, and holds the ability to terminate studies at any time without reasons.” Without a doubt, this a conflict of interest. After closely analyzing many studies’ disclosures and agreements, researchers found that Coca-Cola practices soft control over research projects. This soft control can be used to persuade the researchers to skew or publish the results in a way that favors the company. Any company’s primary goal is to make a profit; therefore, your product has to be appealing to the public eye. If it became common knowledge that Coca-Cola products and other overly processed refined sugar products cause many adverse health effects, then their sales could decline. We saw this happen with cigarettes as it became more known that they cause cancer. Indeed cigarette companies funded research that promoted the “safety” of their product as well.
Coca-Cola is not a unique case. Many companies fund research that may skew or distort information to support their brand. Remember, any business’s primary goal is to profit, no matter how big or small. When reading the latest health-related news, I suggest researching the funders and the disclosures and agreements. Researchers are required to disclose any potential biases or conflicts of interest that may be present. They are also required to be ethical. Disclosed conflicts of interests, usually in the form of some type of compensation, do not mean the research is bias, but through reading this information, you can determine for yourself.