Dietary Public Health Research and the Food Industry

Almost all the food that we eat passes through commercial companies, and whether it is through voluntary action, public pressure, or government legislation, little will change in the production, distribution and marketing of food without concerted industry action. Commercial enterprise’s primary responsibility is to maximise profit for their shareholders. Some of the actions required to improve dietary public health are likely to be at odds with this goal and may require collaboration between the food industry and dietary public health researchers. However, researchers who study diet and public health can face real and perceived conflicts of interest, which may undermine their scientific integrity, if they engage with the food industry.

This area arouses strong feelings and raises many questions. This project is bringing together those from dietary public health research, those who understand the food industry, and policymakers with a range of perspectives on these and other questions.

Background

This project builds on discussions at an event held in December 2015. From this meeting it was agreed that wider international consensus on this issue needed to be sought. Full details of the event, including a full report can be found at:
www.cedar.iph.cam.ac.uk/diet-research-industry-2015

Current work

Following the pledge to gain wider international consensus, a project has been funded by CEDAR to make progress with this work.

The first component of this project involved a systematic scoping review to identify the principles that have been used or proposed to govern interactions between the food industry and dietary public health researchers. This was followed by a two-stage Delphi study of dietary public health researchers to identify and build consensus on these key principles and then a survey of key, non-academic stakeholders, to identify their views on the principles.

To progress the consensus building process, a two day workshop was held in Cambridge on 16-17 of April 2018. Forty-one dietary public health researchers from around the world attended the workshop. Participants came from high, middle and low income countries, and included leading figures in the field as well as early and mid-career researchers. Participants also had a range of experience of interacting with the food industry, ranging from no contact at all to actively collaborating or receiving food industry research grants. A report summarising the outcomes from the workshop will be posted here shortly.

Funding source

This project is supported with core funding from CEDAR.

Research Team

Contact

For questions about this project, please contact Katherine Cullerton, Katherine.Cullerton@mrc-epid.cam.ac.uk