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ADA rejects food-tobacco link but questions industry influence

By Caroline Scott-Thomas , 20-Mar-2009
Last updated on 20-Mar-2009 at 13:20 GMT

The American Dietetic Association has spoken out to reject comparisons between food and tobacco, but called for more checks on industry-funded research in order to retain public confidence.

ADA president Martin Yadrick’s comments come in response to an article published in the latest issue of The Milbank Quarterly comparing the food industry with the tobacco industry of the 1950s.

Yadrick told FoodNavigator-USA.com that although he felt the article raised some interesting points, “A sentence on the first page says it best: ‘Food is obviously different from tobacco.’”

However, in response to the authors’ assertion that those in the food industry “fund science as a sign of goodwill and a means of generating data supporting industry positions”, Yadrick responded: “It would be irresponsible to say that all industry funded research is bad, however, some studies have shown that there is an influence in the results or even the publication of research when it is funded by industry. Public confidence in science could be hurt if influence issues aren’t looked at.”

Industry has long been criticized for allegedly having a heavy hand in food and nutrition research, but with sources of independent funding often in short supply, many universities are grateful for industry sponsorship.

Yadrick said: “It’s important for research publications to have a series of checks and balances and peer-review processes to ensure that the science that is being published is accurate and free from bias.”

Industry and obesity

He also raised the issue of obesity, which he said needed to be addressed from all sides, including nutrition experts, government and the food industry. The Milbank Quarterly article accused industry of taking the moral high ground on obesity, but not occupying it.

“When it comes to public health, we have to focus on synergy,” said Yadrick. “…Food labels, trans fat substitutions and many other recent changes have come about because everyone worked together and I think all those involved in these changes recognize that.”

In this regard, his views were broadly resonant with those expressed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association regarding industry’s efforts to move towards healthier formulations. The GMA said that industry had reformulated over 10,000 healthier products and would continue to play its part in tackling obesity.

The tobacco comparison

As for the authors’ comparison of food with tobacco, Yadrick said that it was “not valid”.

“There is no way to incorporate cigarettes into a healthy lifestyle, while it is not only possible but necessary to incorporate food into your lifestyle in a healthy way,” he said.

“…Nutrition and food choices are not nearly as black and white. When it comes to a diet, there is no one-size-fits-all definition of ‘healthy.’”

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